Townspeople come together to aid those affected by Hurricane Ian
Erica Fish, Ave Maria Development
Following Hurricane Ian, the Ave Maria, Florida community is thankful the town sustained minor landscape damages, with families and their homes safe post-storm. Even though Ave Maria fared well from this historic hurricane, sense of community has ignited, as business owners, community members and their families have been working tirelessly to provide hot meals, clothes and shelter for people impacted by the heartbreaking devastation.
The Ave Maria Teen Club aka Los Adolescentes de Ave Maria hosted a fundraiser bake sale for nearby communities impacted by the devastation with help from Town Center businesses The Secret Ingredient, Meltz and Way Out Toys & Games who opened their storefronts for kids to set up their booths as the lines grew and grew in anticipation for savory pastries.
“Myself, other parents and our teens felt we needed to assist our neighboring communities. Even if it was a small-town bake sale the young ones put on… There’s still that existing commitment to do right for others and it’s wonderful as a parent to say that our kids wanted to be part of the process to recovery,” says Sandy Martinez, a Maple Ridge resident and parent of two club members.
Los Adolescentes have begun collecting items and driving to severely impacted coastal areas in Collier and Lee Counties, with their most recent initiative being Bags of Love for 50 families containing wet wipes, feminine hygiene supplies, oral care, first aid kits, body wash, canned food and non-perishable snacks and a little note of hope – handwritten by Ave Maria residents as young as ten.
“We whole heartedly thank everyone who donated and continue to give their support to families affected. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help our close neighbors during these very difficult times,” says Ms. Martinez. “Our kids were able to experience what our beautiful Ave Maria is truly about.”
Moved by these relief efforts, Way Out Toys & Games owner, Shawn Jones is now donating all proceeds gained from poster sales each Sunday to aid organizations like the Red Cross and volunteer groups formed by his neighbors and fellow business owners.
“Twenty-dollar posters are one of our best sellers and the profits from these add up quickly, so it was a no brainer to decide we wanted one hundred percent of these proceeds to go to charity. So far, our contributions have helped 70 families affected in Lee County,” says Mr. Jones.
Puerto Rico native Reina Del Mar, owner of Hoja de Menta boutique, understands firsthand the difficulty experienced when a city takes on the worst from a storm, and prior to Ian, she organized several donation drives for islanders impacted by Fiona. The day after Ian rocked Naples and Ft. Myers, Del Mar partnered with the Florida Breast Cancer Foundation collecting clothes, shoes, bedding, toiletries and household items for anyone who experienced loss on the coast.
“I am extremely grateful for everyone in this community [Ave Maria] who donated. They may not know it now, but they have brightened someone’s day with their contributions,” says Ms. Del Mar. “In my heart there’s always been the concern of wanting to help whoever I can, and to know Collier County communities with families that lost everything, ignited my spirit to get involved and support relief efforts.”
The Thursday after Hurricane Ian hit land, Ave Maria residents Kimberly Alexandra and Paula Azcarraga-Moran took to social media connecting on the popular Facebook group, Ave Maria Neighbors, asking community members for spare water or toiletries they could begin giving to neighborhoods directly hit from the storm. Strangers to each other then, they would’ve never thought they would collaborate on donation drives and hot meal cookouts.
From just one post asking people for assistance driving supplies to Lee County, it catapulted to several hundred townspeople coming to Alexandra’s home to drop off supplies, even taking into consideration families’ pets by gathering as much animal food and supplies they could find in open stores.
“I am proud to be part of this town where everyone is genuinely there for each other and will not hesitate in helping someone. Even though Ave Maria was not directly affected, this hasn’t prevented countless people to express the love they have for this community and to the greater rest of southwest Florida,” says Ms. Alexandra. “I have never been prouder to live somewhere.”
Azcarraga-Moran shares the essentials are necessary when weathering through any disaster, but as the dust settles, she notes people begin to crave the things they’re used to. Hot meals, cold drinks, fresh clothes and clean air. This has not gone ignored as the two women are focusing on body care and feminine hygiene products, delivering pizzas to homes and passing out goodies to children still confused as to why they cannot find their teddy bear.
“The current struggle we’re facing is that people are remaining at their homes with no roofs and water still leaking inside, because they want to hold onto what is left of their possessions. How can you not be heartbroken witnessing this? So, we’re beginning to re-evaluate what our next steps are for repair and support by meeting the more recent dire needs.”
Word has spread so fast and far about their relief efforts, Ave Maria University students have joined their trips by helping deliver supplies and removing debris. And recently, the Homestead Fire Rescue knocked on Alexandra’s front door with dozens of blankets.
“It makes a difference when people join hands during a time where everyone craves for the well-being of others. We don’t plan to stop what we’re doing, and we know the folks of Ave Maria won’t turn away from the cause,” says Ms. Alexandra. As time goes on, the needs of those impacted are changing. Please reach out via email to learn more and how you can help at Info@AveMaria.com.
Although a great deal of devastation has rattled many, a small town’s efforts have created the biggest impacts. Big hearts truly have the ability to produce the greatest of gestures, showing how one selfless act can create a ripple of plenty more. The community is proud to show how much “Ave Cares.”