ST. JOSEPH -- Millions of Americans have lost almost everything in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma hitting Florida.

Before crashing into mainland Florida, Hurricane Irma set records for strength, flattening islands in the Caribbean and devastating the Florida Keys.

In just under a week, what started as an effort to help her cousin's family has become what Stephanie Schwegel hopes is the beginning of a much larger relief effort.

"We started getting extras that weren't items that they could really use. But we continue to collect them because they have friends, neighbors and the whole community is a total loss."

Schwegel, a St. Joseph resident says the entire relief drive started after hearing her cousin's plea, and she later used Facebook to get the word out. She adds they'd like to partner with a larger organization for a long-term relief effort directed at the entire island chain.

"[Hopefully] we cant team up with someone and continue to collect donations and collect even more and get them shipped down there and dispersed."

Schwegel says her family in the Keys describes the island chain as a war zone.

So far they've sent one van loaded with supplies down to Florida. Schwegel says if they can't find a larger partner with a semi or more resources, they'll keep taking supplies down there themselves.

Irma, at one point the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, claimed the lives of dozens of people across the Caribbean and southeastern United States.

Hurricane Irma has taken more than just material goods though. Things like electricity, food and even clean water are at a premium - with access to those things on the island chain limited at best.

If you'd like to offer your assistance to the efforts of the Schwegel family, contact them at

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Florida Keys Begin Long Recovery After Direct Hit From Hurricane Irma
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