- September 4, 2019
For more than a week, Central Florida residents kept a wary eye on the strengthening Hurricane Dorian.
A major hurricane that originally was projected to have a direct hit on Central Florida ended up almost completely swerving it, with the path seeming to shift a bit more eastward with every new report.
But the people of the Bahamas weren’t so fortunate. Dorian slammed into the islands as a Category 5 Hurricane, first striking the Abaco Islands Sept. 1. A day later, it hit Grand Bahama Island and stalled there for a day.
With at least 50 deaths, more than 13,000 homes destroyed and an estimated $7 billion in damages, the Bahamas is in dire need of assistance — and Baldwin Park residents answered that call.
In the days following Dorian’s departure from both the Bahamas and Florida’s East Coast, Baldwin Park sprang into action. On Wednesday, Sept. 4, SAOR Boutique announced it would serve as a drop-off location for clothing donations.
And on Friday, Sept. 6, radio host Johnny Magic from station XL 106.7 broadcast his morning show live from the Village Center, calling on Baldwin Park and Central Florida at large to partner with them and Runway to Hope in collecting donations.
Runway to Hope hosted its inaugural Sparkle and Shine 5K at Harbor Park Saturday, Sept. 7, so founders Mark and Josie NeJame already had rented the space in the heart of Baldwin Park.
“Our family is about service, and we saw the need, and Josie had gone and rented out the space for Friday, as well as today for the race,” Mark NeJame says. “Accordingly, we thought, ‘Well, we have all these people and we have the venue.’ It’s a fantastic venue, of course, central to Central Florida, and so we started utilizing our resources and putting it together, and the community support was overwhelming.”
In all, Runway to Hope and XL 106.7’s drive collected 51 pallets full of supplies. At Saor Boutique, staff and community members collected three truckloads of clothes.
“Knowing that our family was safe and sound and then knowing what all these families are going through right now, there is this heart of this: ‘What can I do to help?’” Josie NeJame says. “We were spared and we know that, and we have the resources right now. There’s so many people here living in Central Florida (who) have the ability to go ahead and donate their food, donate their batteries, any extra supplies that they might have gotten for Hurricane Dorian on the way.”
SAOR Boutique owner Angie Montenegro said the clothing drive she assisted with began with friend and Baldwin Park resident Melissa Ruy, who posted online that she was collecting clothes as a way to give back.
Montenegro volunteered SAOR to be a drop-off site. Then came the challenge of determining which organization to give the clothes to, ensuring they would go directly to the people in the Bahamas. That’s where another Baldwin Park resident, Catie Guy Bean, came in.
“They weren’t necessarily just doing a clothing drive, they were doing clothing and food that were going to go to the Bahamas,” Montenegro says. “One of her very best friends — which is Karen Murphy and her family — they had a direct connection to Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. Every single house on that portion of the island did get demolished, so they were at the point where they were just kind of collecting tents and camping stuff.”
Publix even donated a barge to the group for delivering the shipping container directly to the people in Green Turtle Cay. The clothes will be taken to a store there — not for sale, but for distribution.
“It’s going to go directly from the Baldwin Park residents who donated to the island who needs it,” Montenegro says. “There’s no middlemen; there’s no fees or anything included with it. It’s just going to the people who need it. … Everybody wants to help. They just want to be a part of (it), they want to be involved and just give back.”
At Runway to Hope and XL 106.7’s clothing drive, there were volunteers out in the sun all day to man the tent and organize donations that people dropped off. Countless cases of water, flashlights, batteries, snacks, diapers and more would stack up, waiting for a truck to come get them. And when the trucks did pick them up, volunteers were there, ready to help load it all.
“It feels good to be able to help others,” Mark NeJame says. “I was born and raised in Orlando and to see Central Florida and Orlando become what it has, it’s really a community that cares. People from every spectrum were there helping and it was heartfelt. … Everybody was there, and it was just wonderful.”
For Montenegro and the people with whom she coordinated the clothing drive, the community response still is inspiring.
“It’s so amazing,” she says. “It’s so great that they really just stepped up. It’s much more than we thought. Going back, we didn’t have enough room here for it — it was definitely a lot. We had people calling or stopping by just to check and see if we were still doing it and then coming back (with clothes), and for the really small-town vibe of Baldwin Park it’s just really cool to see that.”