Their possessions destroyed by the June 24 Lime Rock Road wildfire, scores of Eastpoint people faced a long Independence Day holiday lacking the three basic necessities of life – food, clothing and shelter.
Clothing came in the form of abundant donations from neighbors throughout the county and region, distributed by volunteers, with much of it in storage for the weeks and months ahead.
Shelter will arrive by week’s end, thanks to a temporary trailer solution worked out by local, state and federal officials in conjunction with an area non-profit.
And a lavish tables of food arrived thanks to the generosity of two Tallahassee caterers.
On July 3, Justin Chiricos of Catering Capers stepped up to deliver 200 meals to fire victims, volunteers and first responders.
And then the next day, July 4, Jared Schiess, whose day job is to feed Florida State University football players in his role as a chef at the Figg Performance Table, served up a picnic barbecue of ribs, hamburgers and hot dogs, on the grounds of the Eastpoint Volunteer Fire Department.
Plus there was 80 pounds of smoked chicken, prepared at the fire department right alongside by Jarrod Taylor, who works with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and Mike Shierling, who works for the Florida Department of Corrections, both from Liberty County.
And to wash it all down, figuratively speaking, Doug Cone, of Cone Distributing, a regional beer and beverage distributor, on July 3 arrived with a check for $10,000, with a promise to donate another $10,000 in matching funds for that much given to Sheriff A. J. Smith’s fundraising outreach on GoFundMe, which as of press time had gathered over $106,000 in donations for housing needs.
The July 3 meals from Catering Capers arrived with the help of Apalachicola resident Karen Cox-Dennis, who worked closely with Paula Sapp-Dasher, who has coordinated relief efforts at the Eastpoint Church of God for the community at large.
Cox-Dennis brought down the food in insulated containers, and a cast of volunteers went to work. Melissa Hayes, Patty and Julian Kulick, Francesca Gainer, Diana Boan, Jeri Carroll, Sharron Shiver, Josephine Krehl, Carson Dennis, Sophie Hightower, together with Cox-Dennis and Sapp-Dasher, dished up the meals and the volunteers distributed them to victims of the Eastpoint fire and to the sheriff’s department.
“Thank you to Justin Chiricos for the very generous donation of 200 meals to feed the victims of the Eastpoint Fire, volunteers and the sheriff’s department,” said Cox-Dennis. “We have deep gratitude also to Paula Dasher and all of the remarkable volunteers at Eastpoint Church of God, who have been tirelessly ministering to the 40 families who lost their homes.”
For his July 4 barbecue, Schiess turned to Stephanie White, who works as medical first responder coordinator at Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, to help in putting together the affair at the Eastpoint fire house.
White and her sister Christi Henthorn, and several of Schiess’ friends, helped him set up the grounds, complete with tents, big screen televisions, and horseshoes and corn hole board for anyone who wanted to play.
Mostly it was all about just celebrating America’s birthday in fine style, and no one enjoyed it more than 18-month-old James Russell Dale New, son of Robert New and Kayla Osburn, of Eastpoint.
Nicknamed “Thumper,” the little boy calmly munched on a hamburger while his buddy, 14-month-old Dustin Grimes, enjoyed one too.
The fact that Thumper had a healthy appetite pleased his mom and dad, because they want nothing more than to see their son put meat on his little bones. Born several months premature, no bigger than, as he pointed out, his dad’s foot, Thumper spent his first seven months in the intensive care unit, including weeks at a Miami hospital, as he defeated several abdominal difficulties that so far has kept him smaller than his buddy Grimes.
But he’s doing well now, and he enjoyed the Independence Day meal, and movies, and swinging on the playground at Vrooman Park, as much as all the other kids.
Schiess came up with the picnic idea after delivering clothing and supplies to Eastpoint the week prior, when he saw he could help with brining food to victims as well as first responders and volunteers. He said friends and other restaurants donated food and supplies.
“He’s the kind of guy who will give you his last dollar,” said White. “And then he’ll find 20 other people to give you their last dollar.”
The picnic ran from 3 to 8 p.m., with people dropping by all afternoon to share in a meal or pick ones up for friends.
“The community is immeasurably grateful to county citizens, businesses and patrons thereof, who have offered remarkable support, on so many levels, to those in need,” said Cox-Dennis, “The community is deeply thankful to all of the emergency personnel and fire departments for saving lives, and to all the people in and outside of our close-knit county for their continued support.”