- Written by Amanda Ulrich
- Published: 29 December 2017
There were four of us in my house — me and three other guys bunkered down there — and the first part of the storm it was obviously breezy and the wind was going all in one direction.
Then the eye came out and during the second part that’s when the six sliding glass doors blew out, the kitchen window blew out, all the cabinets blew out. The freezer door ripped off and went flying down the hallway; my mattress got sucked out the window. We were in the hallway, watching stuff flying around and breaking and smashing.
There were like 200 mile-per-hour winds inside the house, funnelling through the hallway. Everything got destroyed inside. It has a concrete roof, but there was so much water it was coming through the concrete, and it was like it was raining inside the house.
Spotting a need
I don’t really need much. I’ve actually gotten kind of used to not having doors or windows. It’s kind of a nice breeze in the house. There are a lot of people that are a lot worse off than I am, and it doesn’t take much to make me smile.
You look around and you see all the destruction and a lot of people lost their jobs, so there are literally thousands of people who aren’t making any money this year.
I’ve probably spent 10 years on the island. I know a lot of families — not saying I seek those people out — but I have friends that live in Huntums Ghut and Horse Path and different places, and you go there after the storm and think: “Wow. Everybody’s hurting.”
After Irma, there were lots of GoFundMe pages that were started and several used the funds that they raised in a misappropriated way. It was deceiving the way that they raised money and what they did with the raised money. I just thought, look, there are people that need help, and one way that I can help the community is by documenting where I spend all this raised money.
I’m not in it to make a dollar. All the money that gets donated goes right back to the people, and there’s photos to document where all the money is going.
I raised $1,910, mostly from friends, and GoFundMe takes about $100 of that. I probably have $1,800 to spend. And to date I’ve probably spent close to $1,000 and have about 30 people that I’ve bought groceries and tyres and gasoline for.
At the supermarket, I kind of look and see what the people are buying. I don’t pay for alcohol, junk food, soda, stuff like that. It’s gotta be essential items. So toilet paper, soaps, rice, pasta, vegetables — those items. Those people don’t have extra money to be buying alcohol or junk or stuff like that.
I didn’t really know at all how much money I was going to raise. I just threw it out there and, you know, as people see it and see that it’s directly going back to the people — and the smiles that people have, the stories that people have — it’s just a genuine way of helping people.
I’ve had people say: “This is incredible; I’ve heard about things like this happening to people but I never believed it was true.” There are all kinds of stories. Everyone has a story.
A smile to remember
I was in line buying a sandwich at Rite Way, and I was looking at what this lady was buying and she was kind of walking a little funny.
After three quarters of the stuff had gone through the scanner, I was like, “Hey, I have this thing called Smiles on Faces and I’d like to pay for your groceries.” And she goes, “I don’t believe you, and it’s kind of a lot of stuff.”
I looked at it; it was at about 50 bucks and I said, “Doesn’t matter,” and they kept scanning and it was only about $74 or something.
So I paid for it, got the photo with her, and she said, “Thank you; this is incredible, it’s made my day.”
I came outside and was eating my sandwich, and the lady came out pushing her shopping cart, and she stopped right by my jeep and said, “I just want to let you know that I had spinal surgery a couple months ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I absolutely ran out of food yesterday and I didn’t even think I could make it to the store today because I’m in so much pain. And you just put the biggest smile on my face and made my day. Can I give you a hug?”
And she starts crying. It touched me. And of course I started crying. I get a little worked up just telling about it.
More smiles on faces
I don’t ask for anything in return: I just want people to pass it forward. And just doing little things like this — you know, it’s donated money; I have to give it back.
I’m not trying to blow it up or anything, or advertise for donations, but I update the Facebook page and the GoFundMe page, and share all the pictures and the stories.
Just last week I got 25 boxes of “disaster relief meals” — with about 30 meals in each box — from Water Island Search and Rescue. So I went by the Family Support Network and donated six large boxes, and then I drove around in Huntums Ghut and Horse Path and all the little back streets and gave away about 500 meals.
We’re coming up to Christmas time, and it’s gonna get tougher. I wish I could do more with Smiles on Faces and help people buy toys and stuff for the kids. In the future we’re looking to expand even more.
Overall I’m a lucky guy. I’ve survived motorcycle crashes, car accidents, skateboard accidents, been rescued at sea. I’m lucky to be alive. I’m not better than anyone else. I need to help others.
Interview conducted, condensed and edited by Amanda Ulrich.