When Maria Estrada returned to her Upper Matecumbe flower shop – which sits only a stone’s throw from the ocean – the sight was tough to stomach. For years, the shop had operated as “home base” for Maria’s Hope and Prosperity, a local non-profit committed to helping local children and families in need. Once a place of lush colors and fresh scents, the shop was now in shambles.
I didn’t want to look at my shop, so I told my husband, Pete, to take care of the shop while I took to the streets and attended to the people,” she said.
Estrada decided to take anything out of her Tavernier storage unit that was salvageable and immediately donate it to families in need. She traveled around to various drop offs – Plantation Key School, Key Largo School, St. Justin Martyr Church, and Stanley Switlik to name a few – and left what she could.
Back at the shop, the interior had experienced more than four feet of water, and one of the shop’s three main coolers was down for the count. Even so, Pete went to work at fixing the shop, but also coordinated relief supplies from Pennsylvania.
After visiting schools and handing out supplies for three days, her efforts caught the attention of her pastor, Phil Underwood, of Bluewater in the Keys. Nonprofits from Georgia, Virginia, and Pennsylvania were planning on sending aid and assistance, so Underwood saw the opportunity to connect them with Estrada. Now with Bluewater’s help, Maria was able to get to work.
One Pennsylvania non-profit in particular, Heart Wrenched, went above and beyond.
Heart Wrenched’s Chairman, Howard R. Henry, sent a literal convoy that included a tractor trailer hauling a front loader, forklift and excavator. The equipment, which was originally slated to be in the Keys for 12 days, stayed a month.
Not far behind was a box truck loaded with tents, canned goods, 100 beds, diapers, feminine hygiene products, cleaning materials, blankets, towels, cloths, shampoo, and hundreds of pounds of rice and beans. The supplies were all delivered to Marathon for distribution.
“She helped at least 200 residents, and did it all with a back injury,” said Sebastian Rivera, a fellow member of Bluewater n the Keys. “Maria exemplifies the definition of loving unconditionally for the joy of helping others without personal gain, and is known as the ‘Mother Teresa’ of the Keys. Her kindness is only matched by her extreme dedication to help those in need,” said Rivera.
All in all, Estrada estimates she helped more than 1,000 residents in the weeks following the storm. Nowadays, the future is looking bright for the couple. Maria and Pete’s flower shop is back up and running and Maria’s newest idea is to team up with Henry again to restore a car and donate it locally.
On Dec. 7 Maria’s Hope and Prosperity with be holding a buffet fundraiser at Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by calling 305-509-1106. The organization is asking for the community to consider donating items like gift certificates, art, and cash donations.
The more than 1,000 toys donated by Heart Wrenched will be passed out to kids during the organization’s Christmas party at Mangrove Mama’s in Sugarloaf on Saturday, Dec. 16. An event starting time is yet to be determined. Gifts are for Monroe County children ages 0 to 5 years.
Estrada would like to thank Unique Marine Boat Sales & Service and RIVA Motorsports & Marine of the Keys for their continued support of Maria’s Hope and Prosperity.