Matthew’s aftermath rekindles spirit of giving

By Katie Garwood |

Since she was 10 years old, one thing has been constant in Missy Gibson’s life: volunteer work. Whether it be with her family or on her own, providing Christmas to migrant families or hosting a coat drive for children, helping others in need is what Gibson loved and dedicated her life to doing.


Gibson (right) has worked at Go Fish on St. George Street for about two years and says it gets her a “good blessing” every day there.

But six years ago, that all changed.

Gibson’s husband died by suicide, leaving her to do all the things her husband used to for the family in their 25 years of marriage. For six years, Gibson didn’t do any volunteer work.

“When he passed away, I had to do it all. It’s been very hard, very humbling,” Gibson said. “We had everything, a beautiful home, everything. When he passed away, there was no life insurance, because with suicide you don’t get insurance. I had to sell every single thing I owned, so life’s been real different and I kind of crawled into a hole. I stopped doing anything. I stopped helping, not that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t, I just didn’t have the energy. I didn’t have my husband here to help me and I guess it was a state of depression I was in.”

After giving to others her whole life, Gibson suddenly found herself on the other side.

“Before my husband passed, we gave, gave, gave, gave, gave, but when he passed, I could no longer afford to do anything,” said Gibson, 55. “I actually became a recipient. I remember someone had a fund-raiser for me, and I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m having a fund-raiser?’ I was always doing, and now people were doing for me.”

But after a six-year volunteering drought, Gibson is back into helping others again after Hurricane Matthew struck Florida’s east coast, hitting St. Augustine especially hard. Gibson, who vacationed at her family’s beach house here before her husband’s death, has spent the past six years living on Anastasia Island, which sustained widespread storm damage.

However, when she returned to her home after evacuating to Gainesville, she found little damage: a messy front yard and some siding off her house.

That same day, Gibson’s life took an unexpected turn after she discovered that many others had not fared as well.

“The last six years have just been about me, me, me, poor me, poor me, I’ve lost this, I don’t have that,” she said. “When I started driving around, and I looked at everything that was gone, it was just like a light that came on that said ‘Oh my God, Missy, what is wrong with you? Quit complaining, grow up.’ So that’s what it was, and I just said I’m back, I’ve got to do it. So that’s when I started, after I came home, I started cleaning, starting helping, if someone needed something, I tried to go.”

Since she’s been back in town, Gibson has been “on fire.” For the past week, she’s been helping to clean out homes ravaged by flood waters and fierce winds, working with the homeless coalition, making care packets to donate, gathering supplies for hygiene baskets and directing eager volunteers to different sites around town in need of assistance. Gibson has also taken to social media for donations for the homeless shelter and care packages, as well as rounding up other volunteers to help around town.

All this, plus keeping up with her job at Go Fish on St. George Street. Gibson’s work even played a role in her volunteering renaissance — her first task after six years was helping to clean out her manager Emily Coleman’s, home, most of which was lost in the storm.

Within 30 minutes of Coleman and her husband Alex arriving home, Gibson had corralled 15 people to start cleaning up her house. Coleman said “there’s no way” they could’ve cleaned up without Gibson’s help.

“Missy is probably the most caring, genuine, nicest person I’ve literally ever met,” Coleman said. “She just makes me want to cry thinking about it. She’s just a really good person.”

Gibson said she didn’t know what to expect from the hurricane, since she’s never been through one before. But the outreach in the aftermath of the storm certainly came as a surprise.

“I have never in my life seen anything like this little town,” she said. “It is just, people cannot do enough, people cannot get their hands dirty enough … I am just so in love with this town now, and I wasn’t before; I took it for granted. I have never seen any city do anything like this. The entire town has come together, so it’s pretty cool.”

Gibson said she can’t take credit for all the good she’s done throughout her life as a volunteer. She said that God, like in many other cases in her life, guides her to where she’s supposed to be.

“People always say, ‘Missy, how do you come up with these projects?’ and it’s not my idea,” she said. “God would say ‘Missy, there’s something you need to go do’ and I would get on it. Whatever it was, it would just be project after project after project, and I’d do it. Somehow, it would happen.”

And while volunteering undoubtedly helps others in need, Gibson said it also has an immense effect on her.

“When you help somebody that needs something so desperately, there’s nothing that feels better than that,” she said “Of course, I do it to help them, but I do it to make me feel better about myself and my situation. It just kind of lifts you up, a high that nothing can compare to.”

But even with the destruction of homes, damage to buildings and loss of belongings, Gibson proves that there’s always a way to find light in a time of darkness.

“Through this whole horrible thing, it’s given me life again,” she said. “Not saying that I don’t have terribly sad moments seeing all this destruction, but it’s definitely put a fire back in my soul to help again.”

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