Earlier this month Haley and Brendan Conklin, both 15, Alyssa Delsordo , 14, and several others were having a party, celebrating graduation from junior high, when talk turned to the wildfires. The Conklins wanted to do something for the firefighters. The question was what.
Alyssa’s father Pat was himself a firefighter from 1982 to the mid-1990s, working out of Station 71 at St. Johns Park, south of the Mondex. He’s only 42, but health issues had him leave the firefighting ranks. But he still knows what firefighters may need at times like these.
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Socks, he told the Conklins. Firefighters need socks. They sweat a lot, ruin pair after pair when fighting wildfires. They need socks. Among many other things, anyway. They started making a list. Then the question turned to getting gathering the stuff somewhere, and getting it to the firefighters. Delsordo got on the phone, spoke with the manager at Walmart, proposed setting up out there for donations, “and they were like, absolutely, come on out.”
Word of the Conklins’ idea went out on Facebook. They joined with Alyssa, her younger sister and five other friends, and spent an entire day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., collecting money and goods for the firefighters at Walmart, including $700 in donations. One of the students (he attends Matanzas) played guitar all day, livening up an already lively mood. (see the photo gallery below, courtesy of Pat Delsordo.)
They then grabbed their list and started going through the stores aisles, and not just for socks. Baby wipes, Visine (to get smoke out of firefighters’ eyes), deodorant, Advil, Gatorade, water. “Whatever was on their list of needed items, we went and we got,” Delsordo said. By the time they were done, they’d spent all the money and filled a trailer and a pick-up truck full with the stuff. And they delivered it to the county’s Emergency Operations Center, where county and municipal firefighters, along with the Division of Forestry and sundry help from surrounding counties, have been staging manpower and equipment since early June as they’ve battled fires.
Delsordo’s story is just one of many like it. County and city firefighters have been overrun by donations of all sorts, from the individual donor dropping off a few crates of water to organized, relief-worthy efforts such as Flagler County’s Champs (an acronym that stands for Community Help Association Making Projects Simple), which has had its own semi-permanent staging operation at EOC: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, coordinating donations with a series of corporate sponsors of fresh fruit, drinks and other goods. Winn Dixie and Coca Cola donated 25 cases of Poweraid one day. “We also delivered cases of Slim Jims, peanut butter and cheese crackers and gallon size zip lock bags,” Champs organizers wrote on their Facebook wall, and when they bought 40 bottles of hand sanitizer and 30 tubes of chapstick, Walgreens matched the donation.
The goods pile up from there, from dozens and dozens of individuals, companies, religious concerns, political parties, non-profits, schools. Most donated water, some donated granola bars, Gatorade, ice, snacks. The Hammock Beach Club, MediQuick, Home Depot, Sharps Discount Liquor, the Flagler Tea Party, Grace Tabernacle Food Pantry, Flagler Palm Coast High School, Parkview Baptist Church, Staples, Publix (not just in Palm Coast: one in St. Augustine also donated), Beyond Bliss Day Spa, the Flagler County Sport Fishing Club, Prosperity Bank, the county’s Realtor association, Tom Gibbs Chevrolet—and the list goes on: most donated water, some in very large amounts. Coastal Chiropractics donated chiropractic sessions at the EOC in addition to consumable goods. Dunkin Donuts donated (well, you can guess what Dunkin Donuts donated).
The county kept a tally. Alan Peterson, chairman of the county commission, wrote thank you letters. And stage hands at the county’s EOC tried to find space for it all, but as Don Petito, the fire chief, put it this week, one hangar normally used to park vehicles was full up with supplies, most of it water. The Division of Forestry, whose men and women are not allowed to receive direct donations, got its share of goods through EOC.
With the skies opening up Friday evening and rain in the forecast in coming days, perhaps the emergency will ease, and with it the long hours firefighters are putting in. But there’s only been a few certainties during this wildfire crisis, the firefighters’ readiness to do battle and the community’s generosity among them. The weather, and the fires, haven’t been nearly as cooperative, or predictable.