On the lawn of a small church in Suncoast Estates, surrounded by Hurricane Ian-damaged homes and toppled trees, hundreds of amazing people got together to help a community that felt forgotten by the world.
More than 300 volunteers arrived at Suncoast First Baptist Church in North Fort Myers. They helped distribute supplies and take inventory of residents’ needs. An anonymous donor from Tampa brought down a truck filled with $20,000 in supplies. Other donations poured in as well. Diapers. Wipes. Water. Bleach. Electrical cords. Toothpaste and deodorant. Menstrual supplies. Toys for the kids.
A mobile medical clinic made themselves available to help with any injuries or health concerns. Dr. Immanuel Amissah of North Fort Myers offered to do house calls for medical needs and wound care.
Six news outlets came to tell the story:
Peter and Edna Hanti brought their food truck from the Fort Lauderdale area, Pompano Beach to be exact. Mama’s Taste of the World. For three days before their arrival here, the Hantis saved their personal tips and collected donations from the Lyon’s Den, their local pub, to feed our volunteers.
Michael Gumz, who lives in Suncoast Estates, felt his home was in much better shape than his neighbors, so he spent the whole day helping, sacrificing sleep before his night shift at work.
“I didn’t have any damage except for power loss,” he said. “And I needed to come out here and help because I was lucky. Out of all the folks here, I was the lucky one.”
Chef Grego Diaz, a social media influencer from the Tampa area who shares recipes and tips for cooking cultural Puerto Rican dishes in his blog Sabor with Love, brought his crew to Suncoast Estates after feeding storm victims in Puerto Rico. They served up delicious rice dishes free to residents and volunteers.
“We’re just cooking and giving. We have fruit. We have water,” Chef Grego said between trips to the truck as he set up the cooking space with enormous pans. “We are trying to feed 1,000 people today.”
Ruth Cid, the CEO and founder of Premier Lifestyle Group and Global Team Leader Powered/Brokered by LPT Realty, dressed in a #PLGcares tee, was so moved by the stories she’d heard of our work here that she came out to volunteer.
Amanda Cruz and Sgt. Alison Cavanagh of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office brought 15 young volunteers from the sheriff’s teen outreach group, plus interns from Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College.
Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris came out to talk with families and get a sense of their needs. She talked about state services that try to prevent the need for foster care, like partnering with groups like Better Together.
Even before the event, when we couldn’t reach our T-shirt vendor, Wear The Fund in Fort Myers worked around the clock to get us shirts for our volunteers.
During our rounds, neighbors joined us. A man in a gray T-shirt and blue jeans brought cold Gatorade from his home.
Mercy Chefs delivered food.
A man and woman from Tennessee drove down to Southwest Florida with 10 boxes of diapers and several boxes of wipes. He said he was born in Lee County and lived here many years.
Some of our team members from other parts of the state joined us, too.
Daniel Heath, who drove from the Jacksonville area where he’s our Northeast Florida Executive Director, gave a man the shoes off his own feet.
“It’s not often you meet somebody else that wears a size 13, let alone a single dad in need,” he said.
We got supplies to a cancer patient who couldn’t come to the door. A neighbor connected us.
We gave toys to children who lost many of theirs. Food and water to people who haven’t been able to leave the community because the storm damaged their car. Hope to people who felt isolated and alone.
Jackie sent us an update on her situation. She’s the grandmother we’ve shared about before, who lives with her daughter and three young grandchildren in a damaged trailer. Her family got electric. They have supplies. Now they’re just waiting on FEMA for the roof.
“Our whole family is so very very blessed to have you touch our heart’s,” she messaged. “I never trusted anyone after my husband died – I found out there is a lot of people that want to help but have other things to do. So I wanted to say thank you from the bottom of our heart’s!! This community has never felt so loved and cared for ever – you have lifted spirts here. U made me believe that there are still people who care and keep their word.. i still can’t believe you came back and kept coming back. I am so very great fully to u and alllll of the others u sent.”
A special thank you to Pastor Dale and all the people of Suncoast First Baptist Church. You rolled out the welcome mat and took us in. Thank you to Ron, who ran security.
To all who helped the world see Suncoast Estates, who helped, who gave their time and supplies, in all the ways you gave, THANK YOU!
This is what it means to love your neighbor.
Keep the love alive, Florida!
With hope and gratitude,
The Better Together Team
Give Help: https://bettertogetherus.org/give-help
Moments by Kinfay/hopeful images:
Posted October 12, 2022 | Pamela Hayford