When it became clear that Hurricane Irma was heading directly toward us there were many emotions that crept into my mind. I have always been the first to wonder why people stay put when catastrophic events happen; however, I now understand the difficulties of leaving your home behind and packing all your most precious memories into a couple of suitcases. When we decided it would be best to leave, I took a moment in which I sat on our bed, took a deep breath, and all the memories we shared in this house slowly played like an old home video on an imaginary projector right before my eyes. I thought of the time we walked into the space and knew it was going to be ours. I remembered the first run Maddux could take in his very own backyard. I had visions of the initial Thanksgiving that I hosted. I smiled while foggy images of all the other parties we held danced around in my brain. And then, a tear slowly crept down my face realizing that the day Kev asked me to spend the rest of his life with him took place in this home. I wiped my cheek and slowly began to pack a bag of our most prized possessions. All the while, realizing that a house isn’t simply a roof that one puts over their head. It’s a place in which you develop a space that makes you happy, day in and day out. An area of safety, joy, and laughter. Driving away that night, not knowing what we would come home to, or rather if we would come back to a home was one of the hardest things we ever had to do.
The next 4 days felt like years waiting for what we thought would be a horrible fate. Thankfully, we received the news that Sarasota was not hit nearly as hard as expected. We were overcome with gratitude. However, many of our neighbors to the North and South of us weren’t as lucky. Kev and I decided immediately to donate a portion of our Kind Cotton campaign sales to hurricane relief. The difficult part was determining where to send the money. We wanted it to have an actual impact of the lives of children who needed it most.
When discussing this with a friend, she suggested a small town that her cousin worked in called Immokalee. A few weeks went by and I received a phone call from the receptionist at Lake Trafford Elementary School. I described how we wanted to help and she immediately put me through to the incredible Catherine Brown Crawford, Assistant Principal. When I told her that I had a check for $400 she reacted as if we were providing her school with a million and, in that moment, I knew this school was special. She proceeded to tell me a story that will forever stay with me. She explained that many families, who already live in poverty lost everything, their possessions, their cars, their jobs, and even their homes. Amongst all of this, there was one little boy who came to school once it reopened with a water damaged agenda book. He sadly explained to the principal that he was sorry for needing a new one. In that moment, I was standing in the grocery store with chills, crying quietly while trying not to make a scene. I realized that this boy experienced my greatest fear. He had to decide, in the midst of losing everything, what mattered to him and he chose school.
These children are our future. They are the ones who will make changes in our world and if we don’t take the time to support them we aren’t doing our jobs as humans. The decision to help this school as much as possible was made even more clear when we met Catherine and her husband this weekend with two cars full of food and school supplies. Their love for the students was evident from the moment they pulled their cars up to collect the donations from us.
Each day, I try to be grateful for the love I have in my life. I make an effort to remain aware of the fact that even on my most difficult days, there are children who are hungry, tired, and homeless who still find reasons to smile and find joy in life. Thank you to everyone who made this happen and thank you to Catherine and the rest of the Lake Trafford staff for doing everything in your power to love these valuable, hardworking, beautiful children. Together, we WILL make a difference.