VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Mindy Bartlett Strong lives in Virginia Beach now, but she grew up in Fort Myers, Florida.
She says it’s heartbreaking to see the devastation Hurricane Ian caused to her hometown, but it’s enlightening to see how people have come together to get through the destruction.
“As soon as I heard, it was a feeling from the universe that I needed to go help,” said Strong.
Strong booked a flight when she saw the devastation. She and her sister have been helping anyone who needs it.
“First thing we did is we wanted to go as close to ground zero as we could and we started bringing supplies and meals right away,” said Strong.
She’s documenting her journey on social media and taking donations from friends to help the people she meets along the way.
“Social media has allowed me to use video and pictures to tell the story that the drones can’t tell,” said Strong.
Mindy says some of the people they met hadn’t eaten in two days. They started filling up grocery carts with bread and buying cases of water to give to those who need them.
“I’ve never asked for money before, but I knew that’s what we needed and we started making meals,” said Strong.
$100 of the money donated to Mindy through social media went to Jim. Jim and his wife, Gina, tried to ride out the storm, but the water started coming inside their 2nd-floor apartment.
“We had to break windows to get out and we were swimming,” said Jim, adding they got out just in time. “The roof of the apartment blew off and then the floor came off and we watched the whole thing come apart.”
Another man Mindy met is named Jose.
“He lived right at the foot of the bridge,” said Strong. “They had to rescue a downstairs neighbor who almost drowned.”
Jose is one of many who lost everything, including his job because the restaurant he worked at is gone.
“After the storm, Jose walked across the bridge to the town square,” said Strong. “He said he saw many dead bodies.”
Mindy also met Dion who lives on his houseboat which came so far inland during the storm that now he can’t get it back to the water.
Another family Mindy found turned their garage into a place for neighbors to come get supplies. Anna and her husband started grilling food and delivering meals to their elderly and disabled neighbors who can’t leave their homes.
“It’s beautiful how the perspective of these people is when I try to give them two meals as opposed to one, they’ll say ‘no my fair share is one, give it to someone in greater need,'” said Strong.
She says she knows these people won’t be back on their feet any time soon and she wants to do everything she can to give back.
“There’s story after story after story like that and every one of them is as horrific to hear,” said Strong. “Dion needs help, Jose needs help, Jim and Gina need help and all of the other people I haven’t met yet they need help. These people are going to need a lot of help for a long time.”
Mindy was taking donations on Venmo, but because she’s heading back soon, she’s encouraging people to donate to the United Way Southwest Florida Emergency Relief Fund.