Line workers are getting plenty of attention this week as they work long hours to restore the state's power supply following Hurricane Irma.
Chad Stewart has been a lineman for 27 years, and he said he has never seen the kind of support that he and his fellow Linetec Services workers have been experiencing this week as they work days on end, sun up to well past sundown.
They are hot, they are dirty, they are hungry, and they are tired. And they are grateful for the hospitality that Florida residents have exhibited thank, in part, to a Facebook page called Irma Recovery: Florida Linemen Support.
This page has connected power company employees with residents all over the state who are pulling together impromptu dinners and goody bags for the workers and offering to take home their filthy uniforms and return them the next day fresh and clean.
Although it is the job of men like Stewart to restore power following a damaging storm such as Hurricane Irma — which swept into south Florida on Sunday, Sept. 10, and plowed north through the state during the night — it's also nice to know there are people who care.
Stewart, who is from New Braunfels, Texas, hasn't been home in a month; and that's about the last time he had a hot, home-cooked meal, too.
“It was really relaxing and felt like home,” Stewart said. “We've been working a lot of long hours, and it just felt like people really cared for what we're doing.”
He and his team helped Texas recover after Hurricane Harvey and then headed straight for Florida.
SUPPORTING THE LINEMEN
Genevieve Mckay and her friend, Cheryl Bellhouse, walked around their Fullers Crossing neighborhood following the hurricane to survey the damage. The Winter Garden community was trashed, she said, and they began cleaning up.
The idea of helping grew from there, and the pair gathered snacks and water to hand out to any workers they saw performing their recovery jobs. They piled their children in their vehicle and set out.
“I couldn’t believe the amount of men we found,” Mckay said. “It took about three hours to deliver everything. … We talked to them, getting to know them and hearing their stories. We asked what they needed, and some needed laundry done.”
Many of them were hungry for something other than fast food or a sandwich and were craving a warm, home-cooked meal.
Bellhouse was moved to help because she remembers providing for residents after the February 1998 tornadoes destroyed several areas in Central Florida, including Winter Garden.
“My aunt and I brought out drinks and sandwiches, and we found people who had been affected by the tornadoes,” Bellhouse said. “That's always played out in my mind.”
The following day, Mckay and another friend, Danielle Pascucci, bought 50 McDonald's cheeseburgers and gave them out in Windermere to crews from Texas, Louisiana, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
These women are among roughly 900 mothers who belong to the Winter Garden Mommies Facebook group. Because of the power of social media, these women were able to connect with the Irma Recovery: Florida Linemen Support page.
In this online support group, Mckay said, people started reaching out for assistance: “There are people who are saying, 'There are 50 men in DeLand who need this; I have 100 guys in Ocala who need that.'”
Mckay connected with an Orlando woman, Julia McLaughlin, to put together a potluck for the linemen at a local hotel on Saturday, Sept. 16. McLaughlin found a neighborhood, Winter Garden's Covington Chase, in which residents seized the opportunity to cook for a good cause.
The Winter Garden Mommies Group was in charge of drinks and desserts.
Their final destination was a Rosen hotel on International Drive, where they set up tables and chairs in the parking lot and sought out hungry workers.
“They had just gotten off work,” Mckay said. “They were hungry. They just came by the bucket loads. By about 9 o'clock, we had about 75 men come and go.”
The linemen were treated to everything from macaroni and cheese and pulled pork to spaghetti and casseroles. Fresh fruit and dinner rolls rounded out the meal. Families in the moms group brought out cupcakes and cookies, as well as posters made by their children. Leftover food was packed in to-go boxes.
In addition, the women offered to take home their laundry and deliver it the next day. Each basket of clean clothes included a goody bag with items such as Gold Bond, gum and beef jerky.
“There are a lot of complainers out there, but I think there are more of us,” Mckay said.
“I feel like, there’s so many people who are doing such great things, neighbors helping neighbors, strangers helping strangers,” Pascucci said. “But I feel like (the linemen) go unnoticed sometimes. Some people think that it’s their job, but I don’t think people realize they are on the road for weeks at a time. They came here to help us. And they are away from their families, they don’t have a break or days off, they are in the heat all day long. I just felt like they are working so hard to help us.”
“They were the most appreciative people I've met,” she said. “And it meant a lot to us to see how much it meant to them. It was important to me, too. My son is almost 6 – I brought him with us – he doesn’t know what it’s like to do without. It was important to me to show him what it’s like to help other people.”
Mckay said the experience was a great teaching tool.
“It’s not about me,” Mckay said. “I just want my boys to learn how to help people. They have to be the good in the world. That’s my job. I’m a mom. More love, less hate. I’m a believer that tragedy and suffering bring hope. They make you come out the other side better and stronger. Some people get defeated, but I hope they can find the silver lining. There were a lot of pictures of rainbows being posted (on Facebook) after the hurricane, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
The local moms are waiting to see if linemen are still in Central Florida this weekend, when they hope to hold another potluck gathering.
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].