Hurricane Michael has not received as much media attention as other big storms of the past but for the folks living on the Florida gulf coast the storm was devastating. For most of them it has been two solid months of total rebuilding.
Ernesto Diaz has been there much of that time. As an electrician, his skills have been employed in non-stop service, working six days a week, since the week of the storm. He has been back to his Georgia home only once in that time frame.
As a former beneficiary of Santa’s Sleigh, Ernesto couldn’t help but look forward to both Christmas and Thanksgiving for some of the families he has met. He spoke to the pastor of his church, Temple View Baptist, about what they could do. Over the course of weeks a plan started to formulate.
When their list of families grew the good pastor of Temple View Baptist contacted us and asked for a little help. In looking at the good year we have had it didn’t seem to be too much to ask that we find a way. The goal for these eight families was to supply them with food and whatever cooking materials they lacked to be able to host their own Thanksgiving in their own homes — a thought that was impossible to imagine just a couple of months ago.
Inspired by a church member who is donating her home garden grown onions, an effort was made to secure as many fresh ingredients as we could. I live miles away but where I live it is potato country. We enjoy these huge russet potatoes that we purchase from Idaho farmers in 50 pound bags. These potatoes are massive, nearly the size of footballs in some cases. We buy them in the fall and they last all winter and into the spring. Without much thought of how we were going to get them there I borrowed a truck to get eight 50 pound sacks as well as a good variety of other potatoes (reds and golds). The cost of these were minimal to Santa’s sleigh and would last those folks a long, long time.
On the way home I also stopped at a local Pepperidge Farm facility, which is also near my home. Rolling the dice, I wondered if they had any of their great stuffing left or if it had all been shipped out to stores. Luckily, I caught the right man there on a Saturday who heard my story and took care of business. He said they had plenty of stuffing they could send for those eight families. He asked me how we wanted to get them there and I told him I would just ship them with the potatoes. He asked me how many I had so I showed him.
From his cell phone he summoned a guy with a fork lift who brought out a pallet and together we loaded the pototoes and the stuffing. They wrapped the pallet right in front of me and marked it for a truck that was heading out that night. No charge.
We ran into a similar generous gesture from Associated Foods. They responded to our request for discounted turkeys by providing them for free — all turkeys over 20 pounds, two for each family (one for Thanksgiving and one for Christmas).
Concerned that maybe some families couldn’t store two birds we spoke with Ernesto. He said it could be a problem but using contacts at Associated Foods a local grocer offered to store them for those who could not.
At the grocery store someone heard what was underway. Another church, this one local, got involved and began to investigate. Who needed refrigerators?
Five of those families needed them. Phone calls were made. Within days Ernesto and his team were moving in refrigerators where they were needed.
There will be Thanksgiving for folks in the storm zone this year. It will be different but in many ways it will be sweeter.
Our thanks go out to many people. But especially to Ernesto.
“When Santa’s sleigh helped us through a Christmas several years ago I didn’t understand it,” Ernesto said. “My son was sick, I was hurt and not working. It was an unhappy time. Santa’s sleigh eased that burden a little bit. It feels good to be on the other side of it. I understand it now much better.”