Neighbors Helping Neighbors  

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Hurricane Irma struck Fort Myers Beach on Sunday, September 10 with high winds and driving rain; by the next morning, a group of local volunteers were out-and-about, helping those they knew, as well as strangers in need.

“Actually, we did not have a lot of damage to our home,” said Dan Allers, “so we thought it better to go and help those who could not take care of themselves that Monday. It began simply, with my fiancée and I, along with one friend, going around the island to check on vacated properties, either from seasonal residents or caused by the evacuation, taking photos and sending them, to let people know their place was OK or not OK and what were the issues we could see from the outside, to try to ease their minds.”

Student volunteers from FGCU: Logan Halbritter, Justin Nessel, Lawrence Waters, Kammie Conrad & Esta Minaie.

Dan explained, “The next thing you knew, we hit the ground running, others joined in, and for the rest of the week we were removing trees and debris, cleaning properties, and any jobs we could do for those who were unable take any action. We eventually had about 15 island residents help us out, doing between 5 to 7 yards a day, focusing on doing work for those who could not do it for themselves, such as residents who are older, do not have the physical or monetary means or struggle with a disability. We soon teamed up with the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Fort Myers Beach to field calls.”

The 7-Slot Social Club, a fun-loving group of Jeep owners joined in the effort and one of its founders, Renee Jeffreys-Heil, who teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University, was contacted by a former student and several students in the Pre-Dental and graduate Physical Therapy programs appeared to help.

Dan split up the FGCU students into two groups, sending one to Joe Orlandini for his community efforts, while keeping the rest, so the young adults could help in those areas that required the most assistance. “The kids were fantastic, and really worked hard, with wonderful upbeat attitudes,” Dan related. “Joe hosted a lunch for volunteers, along with members of Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District, at the Sunset Beach Tropical Grill, so it was great to know that others appreciated our outreach.”

Unusual & Moving

Dan said the most unusual cleanup involved a roof on Donora Boulevard. “It was a flat roof and part of it blew off, but Irma rolled up half of it so that it looked just like a Fruit Rollup! It then blew right through the lanai cage and straight to the bottom of their swimming pool! The owner asked if we could get it out for them, but that was beyond our capabilities.”

The most moving was actually the very first property they came to assist. “An 87-year-old gentleman on Donora, was in his house all by himself, with no power or air conditioning, and feeling very uneasy about his situation. The folks from the Tuckaway Café told us about him and he was stunned that a group of strangers would be there for him. I can’t even explain or put into words how excited he was to see people come out to help, for no other reason than just to help! Next thing you knew, his neighbors were coming out to join us, offering assistance and things like wheelbarrows, and suddenly his whole neighborhood was involved in the effort. It was heartwarming to see people step up for each other, and to witness our small island community rally together in such a difficult time.”

The island work group is still available for assistance, “but now that things are slowly returning to normal, we are on a more limited basis,” explained Dan, “as many of us are now returning to our offices and jobs. If you still need us, we can be there for you, as long as you understand that our efforts will mostly be after normal business hours or on weekends. Contact the Chamber at 239-454-7500 or Town Hall at 239-765-0202, and they will get the message to us to make arrangements.”

In reviewing his Hurricane Irma experience, Dan said, “It is difficult to put into words, but to me you learn that material things are not as important as you think they are. Don’t get me wrong – it is wonderful to have a home to come back to – but it is really about the people and your neighbors. The other thing I take from this is that the more and better prepared people were, the better off they seemed to be in the long run. Those who took the advance warnings seriously and put in a lot of supplies fared generally far better than those who did not.”

His parting thought on hurricane prep and recovery? “We can ultimately replace our property, but we can’t replace you.”

 

Gary Mooney