Archive for Sunday, August 22, 2004

Personal ruin doesn’t prevent generosity in hurricane’s wake

August 22, 2004


— With a freezer full of food about to spoil, there was only one thing for Nestor Tsimpedes to do after Hurricane Charley made a shambles of his restaurant -- feed people for free.

When the freezer was emptied of ham, roast beef and turkey, he sent his employees to buy hot dogs.

"What was I going to do? I'm ruined," Tsimpedes said, his eyes becoming moist with tears as he recounted memories of the Greek-American kitchen where he toiled nearly every day for the past 10 years.

Tsimpedes is not alone in his generosity. Hundreds of local residents and some from across the nation have turned out to provide a vast array of free aid since Charley ravaged the area on Aug. 13.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said that as of Friday 77,000 households had registered for disaster relief in Florida. The Red Cross is preparing 125,000 meals a day and says an estimated 2,200 families have been housed in shelters.

But it is the unofficial aid stations that have become a lifeline for many people.

Hurricane victims need travel only a few blocks on some major thoroughfares before seeing hand-lettered signs offering free water, ice, sandwiches, diapers, blankets and toiletries. Many Good Samaritans just pull up at the first big intersection they see to distribute their aid.

"We are amazed by what we see here," said Bruce Bagge, a retired investment executive who loaded up a pickup truck with ice and water to take back to his neighbors.

For several days, Audrey Brooks of Fort Myers loaded up her minivan with bags of bread, peanut butter and other supplies and drove 25 miles to the damaged area. On Thursday, she brought 25 gallons of bleach so people could disinfect their homes, and it was all snapped up in about 30 minutes.

"I am just doing what I can," Brooks said while her 6-year-old son, Timothy, napped in her car. "It's sad. It hit in along an area where people don't have a lot anyway."

With some restaurants and grocery stores still closed, the spontaneous showing of compassion by ordinary people -- and some businesses -- has helped many people get back on their feet.

"People are at their human best when people are in need," said Susan Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. "This is a big, big disaster, and we have big, big Good Samaritans."

Many of the Samaritans are residents of the neighboring communities of Sarasota and Fort Myers who escaped the storm relatively unscathed. Others work for companies who have given them time off to help storm victims.

Dale Creech, a construction superintendent for Minton Construction in Palm Beach, has been delivering ice. When he arrived the day after the storm hit, he drove a truck of ice around until he saw someone in need. Since then, Creech and his company have sent out several truckloads of ice.

"We'd expect somebody to do it for us if it was the other way around," he said.

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