Start the bus: Mayville, Kingston communities working together for hurricane victims

(Photo by John Cook)
Mayville Police Chief Tony Coln (left) and Mayville Community Schools Superintendent Barry Markwart stand in front of the bus that will be used to take supplies south to hurricane-ravaged Florida. The Mayville Police Department, in conjunction with Mayville Community Schools and Kingston Community Schools, will be gathering donations this week to take to communities in Florida, which was hit by Hurricane Irma over the weekend.

The athletic teams at Mayville and Kingston high schools may be rivals on the field of play.

But this week the two communities are teaming up.

All week long, and possibly beyond, the two school districts, along with the Mayville/Kingston Police Department are combining efforts to gather supplies for Florida hurricane victims.

“Over the weekend I was watching all the (hurricane) coverage on the news,” said Mayville Police Chief Tony Coln. “Before that, I watched all the coverage of (Hurricane) Harvey in Texas. I get on my Facebook and go to the police department page and see all the law enforcement and fire departments sending both supplies and manpower to help out a great cause.

“And I thought maybe I could help out a little bit.”

Officially titled “Hurricane Relief Project,” the goal is to fill a school bus with supplies, such as water, canned goods and personal hygiene items, which will then be driven by Coln to a yet-to-be-determined part of Florida.

Over the weekend, Hurricane Irma lashed out at the southeastern United States, bringing 100 miles per hour-plus winds, and unleashing torrential rains. Prior to hitting Florida, Irma caused a great deal of devastation to several Caribbean Sea islands. Many Floridians evacuated ahead of the storm, but some hunkered down and rode it out.

The hurricane, which was listed as a Category 5 storm during much of its life, was one of the largest and most powerful Atlantic Ocean-birthed storms in recorded history. Its power and fury was evident thanks to images and video taken both by news media, and those who rode the storm out.

“I have a contact in Florida that I talked to, and I said, ‘Hey, where and when do you need us?’” Coln said. “And he said ‘Let’s wait a day or two for people to get back to their homes and we’ll see where and when they need it.’”

“My first call was to (Mayville Community Schools Superintendent) Barry (Markwart), and he said, ‘How can we help?’”

“It was Chief Coln’s idea,” Markwart said. “He came to talk to me at my house, and we talked about getting everybody involved, making it as big as possible.”

Coln then called Kingston Community Schools Superintendent Matt Drake.

“He contacted me Sunday night and said he had a school bus, and was looking to pack it to the ceiling and drive it down to Florida and personally deliver it,” Drake said. “Mr. Markwart and I, having access to the community through the schools, we can certainly help him stuff that bus so we set out to think of ways to make it happen.”

And now, the plan is coming together.

Items can be dropped off at the Mayville bus garage, Mayville Elementary School and the Kingston bus garage from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday. Organizers are looking for the following supplies: diapers, baby wipes, baby formula and baby food; bottled water, fruit juice and Gatorade; personal hygiene items; canned goods, dry cereal, canned meat, pre-packaged snacks and peanut butter; Band-Aids, medical tape and rubber gloves; buckets, trash bags, paper towels, paper plates and plastic silverware; and dog and cat food and cat litter.

“We need things that can be used immediately,” Coln said “And things that are near and dear to my heart are items for kids, like diapers and wipes, baby food and stuff like that. Stuff that people who are displaced can use right now.”

In addition, donations and fuel cards are being accepted to help cover the cost of fuel for the trip.

“At Kingston, we have a football game against Deckerville on Friday,” Drake said. “So we’re going to donate all gate receipts to Hurricane Irma relief and if people would like to bring a pile of non-perishable food or personal hygiene items, we’re going to allow them to use that as their entry into the game as well.”

There is not yet a set date for departure of the bus, which actually belongs to Coln. The plan, Coln said, is to see where everything stands by week’s end, and then go from there.

“And if this thing gets bigger than we think it will be, if we fill up that bus, Mayville has a big trailer they said we can use, Kingston has a big trailer,” Coln said. “If we need to take more down there, we’ll take more down there.”

Markwart said Mayville students are reacting positively to the project.

“It’s great right now, we’ve got a lot of positive responses,” he said. “Our National Honor Society and our student council are getting on board, and they’re going to start helping us promote it. At the middle school, we have a life skills class that is required to do community service, and this is perfect.

“We think with these three entities working together, it’s going to be a nice boost for our community.”

Once the decision is made to leave, Coln will talk to his Florida contact, hop behind the wheel of the bus, which he purchased earlier this year from Mayville Community Schools, and drive it south. He will use his personal vacation time to get the time off work.

“I’m taking a group of volunteers, a couple of my officers, some first responders – there’s a lot of people that want to go,” Coln said. “And I’m going to update everything on Facebook, we’ll do Facebook Live, so people will know where we are and where we’re going.”

Cash donations can be mailed to Mayville Police Department, P.O. Box 219, Mayville, MI. 48744.