Days after area first-responders returned from delivering 68,000 pounds of donations to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, they began setting up a similar effort for Hurricane Irma’s Florida victims – an initiative that also benefitted residents in Puerto Rico reeling from the wrath of Hurricane Maria.
Ron Giacinto, a captain with the West Chester Fire Police and a volunteer at Good Will Fire Company No. 2, said he knew before arriving in San Patricio County, Texas, that another long-distance trip would likely materialize, given the success of the first initiative. And once again, they collaborated with Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, who used her connections to set up a distribution center in Florida.
Welsh said the Texas initiative worked well because it had a “sheriff-to-sheriff” component, assuring donors that items would be transported directly to those who needed them. In Florida, she established similar contacts.
On Oct. 4, Giacinto and Ted Hartz, another lead organizer, left West Chester, headed to Big Pine Key, Florida. Another tractor-trailer load of supplies had been collected from numerous sites, including the Dilworthtown Giant supermarket, the West Goshen Acme, the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, Chester County government buildings, Union Fire Company No. 1 and Kennett Fire Company No. 1.
In addition to donations from individuals, multiple agencies and groups – from Good Fellowship Ambulance to Chester County Hospital to First Presbyterian Church – organized drives and delivered items to one of the two tractor-trailers staffed with volunteers. Giacinto and Hartz followed the tractor-trailer, which was donated by Firpo-Heritage Moving Systems of Aston.
On Oct. 5, Giacinto and Hartz made a stop in Kissimmee, Fla., to drop off medical supplies and 23,000 pounds of water, which officials in Big Pine Key had said they did not need immediately and didn’t have space to store. The water and first-aid materials were transferred to a private plane headed to Puerto Rico.
The Chester County caravan then took an additional 30,000 pounds of supplies to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 6. There, Giacinto, Hartz and Firpo’s representatives met deputies from Sheriff Rick Ramsay’s office.
“We want to sincerely thank the Chester County Sheriff’s Office and the other agencies and individuals who donated so generously to our agency after Hurricane Irma,” said Ramsay. “Your selfless act was extremely helpful to our members and our agency during a particularly difficult time. We truly appreciate it, and if there is ever anything we can do for you, all you need to do is ask.”
On Oct. 18, a second tractor-trailer, donated by A. Duie Pyle, a West Chester company, took a similar route south with more than 40,000 pounds of supplies. As donations began to languish, Giacinto said an individual provided six pallets that filled the truck.
Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson welcomed that final delivery last week. He received assistance from Casa Cristiana Jesus Worship Center, a local nondenominational church. The congregation had access to a SeaLand shipping container bound for Puerto Rico.
“The last six weeks has been an incredible experience for all of us. The hard work of the volunteers, the generosity of the donors, and the joy of the recipients have been heart-warming,” said Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh. “The ultimate goal and the ultimate reward? Making lives better for others. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Photo Caption: Chester County Sheriff Carolyn ‘Bunny’ Welsh unloads donations in San Patricio County, Texas.