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Pine Island and Matlacha heroes play a crucial role in accelerating Hurricane Ian recovery

We asked for Hurricane Hero nominations, and we were amazed by what number of emails we received. Our goal is to acknowledge as most of the Hurricane Heroes as possible. Listed below are a few of the hero nominations for Pine Island and Matlacha:

Hero: Jim Stephens
‘Going into motion on his own’

My name is Randy Boyer, a Bokeelia property owner and disaster response volunteer for Hope Force International & Samaritan’s Purse. I’m writing on behalf of a remarkable individual and candidate on your Hurricane Hero’s article – Jim Stephens. You’ll never find out about Jim because he went into motion to assist hurricane victims without assistance from any organized group or assistance.

What makes Jim so special is that when Hurricane Ian hit, Jim had zero social ties to Fort Myers, Matlacha, or Pine Island. He didn’t own property here, had never visited the world, and had never participated in any kind of disaster relief effort. Jim did all of this on the age of 71. Despite this, he didn’t wait to volunteer with any organized group; he just went into motion by spending his own time and money over the subsequent 10 1/2 months to serve the victims of Hurricane Ian.

In June of 2022, Jim was staying with friends in Clearwater and had never been to Pine Island or Matlacha. While in Clearwater, he was doing a little volunteer fundraising for the Florida Dream Center, a non-profit recovery organization. Through them, he heard of Pine Island. As Jim describes it: “People there would often discuss how Pine Island was an important place to go to and even aided of their recovery since it was a ‘common man’s’ island.” He assumed (accurately!) that it was a spot of no judgment and was (is) very inclusive.

When Hurricane Ian hit, Jim called his clients in Cincinnati, lots of whom had homes on Sanibel and Bonita Springs, and told them that he can be staying in Florida to assist Hurricane Ian victims. “I told them as sad as things were, that they had money to switch and rebuild, and that I used to be in the proper place at the proper time for helping individuals who didn’t have their resources. And we still are friends and have dinners together, despite me not helping them with their properties.”

Jim knew there have been many opportunities to work with other organizations but felt that he could help more quickly by just “doing it” by himself. Along with his own funds, he spent between $10,000 and $12,000 to purchase eight chainsaws, in addition to quite a few rakes, shovels, hand saws, dumpster-size waste bags, cat food, pet food, people food, propane, mold retardant, etc. As soon because the road and bridge to Matlacha were operating, he headed south at 4:10 a.m. on October 6, 2022, and arrived in Matlacha at 6:30 a.m. In keeping with Jim: “I couldn’t consider what I used to be seeing; it was just heart-wrenching. My mind still hasn’t comprehended what I even have witnessed.”

As he drove into Matlacha, Jim began talking to whomever he saw, asking how he could help. He saw an individual walking his dog and introduced himself and determined where he could drop his supplies and ended up connecting with Aaron from the American Legion and from the Cajun Navy as well. They were in a position to drop supplies off in St. James City and Matlacha.

Jim then headed back to Clearwater to purchase more supplies. Jim was driving 128 miles a technique for the deliveries and back to work in Matlacha and Pine Island. He made the round trip from Clearwater to Matlacha and Pine Island 4 times. On his second trip, he got involved with food donations and rebuilding of the BBQ restaurant in Matlacha. For weeks, he helped cook and distribute the free food provided there until the third week in March of 2023.

Through March of 2023, Jim lived within the partially destroyed First Baptist Church of Pine Island via the generosity of Pastor Jim Olson. During that point, he tarped several places, helped construct a restaurant, participated within the BBQ restaurant’s food distribution work, and would find individuals who needed work and pay them to assist with the volunteer work he was doing. He also spent his own money to purchase meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) every day for those willing to help him in his efforts, all in a spot he had never been to, didn’t know anyone, and had definitely no idea what he was walking into because Jim had never volunteered for any kind of disaster relief in his life.

What’s remarkable to me is that Jim didn’t wait. He made decisions and acted on his own, and thru that, was in a position to help and encourage so many who were devastated by the storm. And did I mention that he was 71 when he did all of this?

Hero: George Buonocore IV
‘A grand gesture’

My grandson and certainly one of his buddies, who own boats, managed to purchase and transport supplies to Pine Island right after the storm after they were cut off from the mainland. They managed to secure funds and used their very own. They helped on the emergency supply center arrange on the Island.

Heroes: FSW Community of Friends
‘Lifelines touched our hearts’

After Hurricane Ian struck our home on Pine Island and destroyed almost all the pieces we owned, we had so many “heroes” in our corner that I can’t name just one. Fairly, it was my Florida Southwestern College community of friends who became those helping hands during our recovery. After we returned to the world after evacuating twice, there was no road left in Matlacha to succeed in our house, so our friends, Wendy and Dana, immediately asked us to stick with them on the town until we could assess the damage. It was devastating.

Within the meantime, those few days stretched into two weeks. Then, a series response of additional help got here from Dan and Mary Ellen, who offered us a fully-furnished rental; Ellie and Bob, who, despite their very own damaged home on the Beach, got here out to St. James City to help with wheeling our life to the curb (and recently helped us discover a recent everlasting home on the town). Even the College leadership provided a small grant for us to start the technique of starting over. The various, many lifelines prolonged to us touched our hearts in every way, and we’re incredibly grateful. Definitely, Hurricane Ian was a nightmare of nature, however the aftermath showed us the reality of Emerson’s quote that “A friend may possibly be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.” We consider ourselves very lucky to have so many Hurricane Ian Heroes.

Hero: Dr. Karen Calkins, Physician, LPG
‘Putting others first’

Dr. Calkins’s home was destroyed on Pine Island. Being a St. James City resident, she was committed to helping her fellow Pine Islanders. She worked for days out of the Matlacha Pine Island Fire Department Station 1 where she assisted in stabilizing patients in need to arrange them for evacuation of the island as a result of the bridge’s structural issues.

Heroes: Nine helpers
‘I’m eternally grateful’

Two nights after Ian, the next men who had come by boat from Naples brought food, water, gas, and a chainsaw to assist clear a path to our front door. They were a sight to behold and clearly our heroes! Jeremy Thompson, Josh Thompson, Dale Thompson, Rick Loy, Thomas Harrington, and Brian Wayman.

The next men drove up from Naples with heavy equipment to assist clean up shingles and other yard debris at my home in Bokeelia, plus cut up my palm tree that had fallen. They would not accept anything but a couple of sandwiches and drinks for his or her labor. I’m eternally grateful to all of them!

Heroes: Matlacha-Pine Island Fire Control District
‘A community coming together’

My husband Scott Adema is a Captain of C shift and worked the storm and the times that followed. Scott and all of his co-workers left their very own torn-up houses behind to chop and move trees, to tarp roofs for people, to get people off the island including all their stuff and animals by boat. They supplied food, water, and gas to individuals who stayed on the island. They ran calls, provided doctoral-level help to islanders that stayed on the island, they stayed up all night and all day too.

I do know a number of fire departments did things, but Pine Island Fire Department and Matlacha Fire control district went above and beyond what I saw other departments having to do. If an individual called and needed anything, I mean anything as small as water dropped off, a firefighter went to their house. They gave out baby supplies. Just all the pieces you’ll be able to imagine. I would like you to acknowledge the front-line support people on the department.

Hero: Steve Powers
‘A Matlacha Hero’

Steve lived within the little trailer park at the bottom of the Matlacha bridge on the solution to Pine Island (Dolphin Mobile Home Park – the park that got demolished after the storm). He also owns Allin’s Blinds Vert and Hurricane Shutters within the Cape. He weathered the storm at his business, and as soon because the weather permitted, he…

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