Help From Above

Samaritan’s Purse delivering helpers by the planeload

Volunteers in the Keys after Hurricane Irma
Samaritan’s Purse is helping the community bounce back faster with the massive amount of volunteers they have brought into the Keys since Hurricane Irma. CONTRIBUTED

Samaritan’s Purse Disaster Response will be in town through Nov. 15, and will stay longer if there continues to be need. “Right now we aren’t getting enough calls to keep our volunteers busy,” said Todd Taylor of the organization on last week.

Two volunteers stopped by The Vineyard Christian Center in Big Pine Key recently to see if anyone had requested help with tree removal or general help getting their homes and property back together, but no one had.

“We can stay through the first of the year if the need is there,” said Taylor. Volunteers are flown in daily from Fort Lauderdale to the Key West Airport. From there, the teams go out into the community to help people.

Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing its religious message. Since Hurricane Irma devastated the Keys, the group has flown in planeloads of volunteers almost every single day, weather permitting, and barring Sundays (although the first three weeks, they helped on Sundays, too!).

The group says a prayer with residents before they start chopping and chain-sawing away, and gives them a Bible, but “we aren’t going to hit anyone over the head with the book,” said Taylor. It also has teams spread from Barbuda to Texas, helping those communities with hurricane clean-up.

It’s an impressive effort of giving. For example, on Nov. 7 there were 83 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers working in the Keys, 18 of whom were serving on their first day. Volunteers work an eight-hour day before being flown home again — meaning the day racked up 664 volunteer hours. The crews remove drywall, salvage belongings and clean up yards. They work at homes from Key West to Marathon, although their concentration now lies in the Lower Keys.

On its website, Samaritan’s Purse recounts the interactions between the helpers and the helpees. Volunteer Roxanngely “Roxy” Correa-Torres of Boston had the good fortune to meet and assist an 83-year-old Leona Smith from Key West. Smith passed away earlier this month.

“We had no idea those would be Leona’s last days … When I went down to Key West with Samaritan’s Purse, my intention was to serve and do God’s work and be a blessing, but it was the other way around,” Roxy said. “I received the greater blessing (for meeting Leona).”

In the beginning, right after the storm, Samaritan’s Purse was sending down three planes a day with a capacity of 58 per flight. Then it went to two planes, bringing 116 volunteers a day. The volunteers come from all over the country — Washington, California, Idaho and all over the Midwest and East Coast.

Right now, the organization plans to continue offering help through Wednesday, Nov. 15, unless more requests for help come in. To make a request or a referral for a neighbor or friend who needs help, call or text 239-339-7455, or stop by The Vineyard for an application.

Total work orders | 591

     Completed | 307

     Still to be worked | 87

     Assistance from other groups | 197

Total volunteers so far | 1,964

Total volunteer hours so far | 29,408

Ocean Reef sends help

In addition, the Coldwell Banker Schmitt Charitable Foundation received the first of five $250,000 donations to help locals get back on their feet. The money was raised by the Ocean Reef Community Foundation and with the help of Florida Keys Hurricane Relief Foundation presented the check to Nira Tocco and Jessica Borraccino of the fund.

“We needed to do something to help those outside the gates,” said Ocean Reef Community Foundation’s Yuri Mikolay. The fund has already financed needs of the employees at Ocean Reef Club. Applications for need in Monroe County are being looked at weekly, instead of the usually monthly review, and can be found at


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