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Panthers, JetBlue Team Up to Feed Storm-Worn Floridians

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

SUNRISE, Fla. - There's plenty of cleanup work to be done after Hurricane Irma.

Luckily, none of it will not be done an empty stomach.

With the after effects of the storm still being felt throughout South Florida, the Florida Panthers and JetBlue teamed up to provide free hot meals to anyone in need on Wednesday and Thursday at the BB&T Center.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and again from 4 to 7 p.m., hundreds of exhausted locals, many still living without power and clean water, flocked to the arena seeking a much-needed respite from recovery and to enjoy their first taste of normalcy since Irma's long and destructive march up the state over the weekend.

"A great event today," Panthers President & CEO Matthew Caldwell said. "We've been doing a lot of stuff all week, but I might be most excited about this one. We're partnering with a great corporate partner, JetBlue, who we've worked with a long time. This was their idea. They wanted to give out a free meal."

"There were a lot of logistics that were involved. We had to coordinate with local fire and police, provide security and get the area set up. We're all good to go. We made it happen. JetBlue is just unbelievable people. They're great partners."

With a parade of food trucks lined up throughout the parking lot, both hot and cold meals were available free of charge from more than 20 of the area's top mobile eateries, such as King of Racks, Cheezilla, 90 Miles to Go, Conch Shack, Gallos Pintos, and Worldwide Bistro.

"We have great vendors out here," Caldwell said. "There are all types of food."

In addition to Caldwell, approximately 50 employees from the Panthers and JetBlue were out volunteering at the event, including several hockey players such as defenseman Mike Matheson and forward Nick Bjugstad. "When I found out about it I was pretty excited," Bjugstad said of the event. "It's great to see JetBlue and the Panthers helping the whole city out. There was obviously a lot of devastation that went on, as far as power and debris flying around. It's good that these guys are pulling their weight around the city. The fact that the Panthers and JetBlue are going out of their way to do something like this is amazing."

In total, nearly 20,000 total meals were served over two days.

"It's pretty awesome just to see that everyone is OK," said Bjugstad, who will take the ice at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs on Friday for Florida's first day of training camp. "It could have been a lot worse. It's fun to see this city come together, support each other and pull each other through."

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