Saint Leo Strong! Recently, some of the Saint Leo family helped those in the Panhandle region of Florida who were affected by Hurricane Michael. The ferocious storm was a powerful Category 4 hurricane when it came ashore near Mexico Beach on October 10. People in the Panhandle area of Florida still are recovering.

"After the storm, my family and I felt helpless," said Tami Gildea, who is the team lead in Saint Leo's Sponsor Billing Department in Accounting & Finance. "We weren't sure what to do, but we all felt strongly that we needed to do something. So we decided that we should do what we do best: cook!"

Gildea and her husband Dan own Piggy Palace BBQ in Plant City, FL. The business was set up at the Hillsborough County Fair and the Gildeas could not travel to the areas ravaged by the hurricane until after the fair ended. "We were concerned that showing up a month after the storm would be too late, but decided to proceed with our plan anyway," she said. "We couldn't have been more wrong. Even a month after the storm, those folks still desperately need our help."

She posted on the Piggy Palace Facebook page about plans to help feed those in the area. During the Hillsborough County Fair, what usually is a tip jar became a donations jar. "Our customers were more than happy to donate, and we were more than happy to receive donations rather than tips," Gildea said. "Family and friends also donated, which helped us to purchase additional food."

Saint Leo's Tallahassee Education Center and the Saint Leo family in the Panhandle were in Gildea's thoughts so she reached out to Liz Heron, director of the Tallahassee center. She shared the plans to pull together the fundraiser and feed a hot meal to whoever needed one. Heron not only donated, but also volunteered to work.

Gildea contacted the Calhoun County (FL) Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Salvation Army to see how to help. The EOC was coordinating volunteer efforts and spreading people throughout the county in order to better serve more people. "We were directed to set up on a tennis court behind the town hall in the town of Altha," Gildea said. "We were not prepared for what we would see."

In addition to Heron, Gildea was joined by her husband, her daughter Savannah Proctor, and her son-in-law Josh Proctor. Savannah Proctor is a Saint Leo alumna, Class of 2017.

The Saint Leo and Piggy Palace team served 450 hot meals on Saturday, November 3. Not only did they serve those whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Michael, but they also fed FEMA and Salvation Army workers, National Guardsmen, police officers, utility company linemen, tree trimmers, and families, who just came to volunteer.

"We laughed with them and cried with them," Gildea said, "and we listened to stories of how they never thought this would happen to them."

And the message is clear this Thanksgiving: "Take some time today to pray for the people in the Panhandle," Gildea said. "They still need it even more than a month after the storm. Thank God for what you have. And even thank him for what you don't have. This could happen to any of us."