Recover, Rebuild, Restore - Stories from Hurricane Irma

Montes Eliscar

Montes Eliscar waited patiently at an emergency mobile pantry distribution held by the Harry Chapin Food Bank in Naples. His power has been out since Irma devastated the area. “I can’t sleep at night and supplies are scarce,” he said. He luckily escaped the storm with a few trees that just missed his house. “I am very thankful. All the trees that came down in my area seemed to fall away from peoples’ homes.”


But beyond the facts and figures of the recovery, there are the faces of recovery. Like Charles, who came to the Suncoast Community Center emergency mobile pantry in North Fort Myers on Monday. He made sure everyone was taken care of before he would take any food for himself. Charles is recovering from recent shoulder surgery, but that didn't stop him from helping people to their car with cases of water bottles.

Although the damage to his home from Hurricane Irma was minimal, his landscaping took a hit. "I've got more trees in my yard than Carter's got liver pills," he said. Charles not only volunteers at mobile pantries, but is also a recipient. "I wait until everyone receives food first. If there ain't [sic] nothing left, I don't eat."


Some of the people at the Suncoast mobile pantry said they were homeless and told how they weathered the storm. Gary, aka "Jake the snake" identified himself as a Vietnam Vet. He said he rode the hurricane out in his tent. "The water got so high, I swam out of my little tent when it fell over," Gary said. "The water was up to my chest when the tent was blown over. I was hoping the wind would blow it back up. It got me good. I came close to climbing into a dumpster for shelter from the wind."


John said he lost it all. "I only have three pairs of pants," he said. "My sleeping bag and all went down the creek. Everything I own is down the creek. Pills and all." John said he is sleeping in his truck, which is partially under water. "I am afraid to try and start it, with all the water it may suck into the motor."

Amigos Center

The sweltering scene at the Amigos Center in Immokalee featured a long line of residents standing in the hot sun, some for more than two hours, waiting patiently for food. The Harry Chapin Food Bank held a mobile pantry for hurricane victims there Wednesday and gave out water, ice, MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) and some Kellogg's snacks.


Sandra had come a long way by the time she got to the mobile pantry. She lives in Naples near the Everglades, and she evacuated with her three children, ages 18, 5 and 2, in the face of a possible storm surge from Hurricane Irma. But she went from shelter to shelter, being turned away, until she found a place at the sixth shelter in Immokalee High School.

"Immokalee is a small community without big resources," she said. Only one store was open, there was no gas, little food, no information on disaster relief and how to apply for it. She still doesn't know what damage is awaiting her when she returns home.

Her friend, Sara, was also in line with her daughter, Reina, 6, and her mother Marcia. Sara has five children, ages 11 months to 11 years. They are "very frustrated, very hungry," she said. Marcia leaves the shelter to try and scrounge extra food and ice for the grandkids.

They were happy and grateful to receive MREs, water and ice. The Harry Chapin Food Bank quickly ran out of items to distribute to the crowd, but they kept on coming. Then employees from the Collier County Code Enforcement office showed up and brought two pickup trucks with more MREs and water. That, too, was soon gone. We fed about 300 families, and had to turn people away.

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