Our trip was a huge success, thanks to all of you who donated and made this dream a reality. We left bright and early Monday, September 25th and headed for the Keys Vineyard Community Church located on Big Pine Key. Paster Steve greeted us at the door and told us where to unload the van. I was blown away when instead of taking everything, they only took the items needed. We unloaded all of the floor fans, the chainsaws, oil for the chainsaws, gas, 10 bags of ice, two containers of laundry detergent, extension cords, gloves, heavy duty trash bags, cleaning supplies, the two rolls of the water shield roof repair, medical supplies, bug repellent, the two cases of mold remover, and paper towels.
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Once the supplies had been unloaded, Pastor Steve invited us into the Fellowship Hall where we enjoyed the cool AC for a brief moment. There were rows and rows of tables lined with clothing, food, and toiletry items. I asked him if he would mind stepping outside with us for a quick photo, and he gladly accepted. It was extremely chaotic and in spite of the fact that Pastor Steve was pulled in a million different directions, none the less, he made time for us and truly appreciated our contribution.
As we were walking through the Fellowship Hall on the way back to the van, I overheard a young woman asking one of the volunteers if they had laundry detergent. The volunteer pointed her to the area where it would have been, but none was there. I spoke up and told her that there was more in the van and to follow me. She walked to the van with DJ CERON and I, and I handed her a large container of laundry detergent. She was practically in tears and told us that she and her 6 year old son had lost everything to hurricane Irma. She was living in a hotel for the time being. I asked her if she needed clothing, food, water, toiletry items or anything else, she replied in this humble, soft little voice "Maybe some hair conditioner?". I crawled over the mounds of food and found the large box where I knew the conditioner was stored and handed it to her. She was overjoyed. Ceron grabbed a small pack of disposal razors and said in his charming Ceron way "I know that you haven't shaved your legs, so take these!", we all laughed and she gave us both a big huge and then posed for a quick photo with me.
We made three other stops on our way through Big Pine Key, leaving a few items where they were needed. Incredibly, the van was still well stocked. Our next stop was in Marathon. Joe Caso, Manager at Germain Lexus in Naples, introduced us to his friend Kevin, a local who knew of many with needs. We followed Kevin to a nearby shopping center where we provided more supplies. An older woman approached us while we were unloading supplies and asked if we had any toothbrushes or dog food. It was uplifting to be able to hand her a toothbrush, toothpaste and a bag of dog food. She, too, had lost everything and was living with her dachshund in a tent. We still had supplies, but there was curfew on the island and we needed to head home.
Through a friend of ours the following day we were connected with Odelys Martinez, she is the guidance counselor at Immokalee Middle School and knows firsthand those most impacted by the Hurricane. We were able to contribute all of the remaining supples at the school where they were disbursed yesterday afternoon.
On our journey, we were surprised to see only a single Key Deer during our drive. When we spotted him walking across the street, we stopped and offered him water. He drank four bottles of water from our hands. The hundreds of iguanas that once decorated the streets were no longer in sight. Thankfully, Jay Law, a local and friend of mine, told me yesterday that he is seeing beautiful new colored lizards and baby iguanas starting to appear. In spite of the devastation to the Florida Keys, the charming, quaint businesses remain and are open for business, and appear to have had minimal damage. There will always be beauty, charm and a very special place in my heart for the Florida Keys.
I plan to return to the Keys next month and continue to document the recovery from Hurricane Irma. #KeysStrong