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Key West sends two fire trucks and supplies to sister city in storm-battered Bahamas

On Thursday afternoon, four volunteers in The Florida Keys were busy sorting through donations for the people of the northern Bahamas, a month after Category 5 Hurricane Dorian shattered the region.

On a roadside beside two shipping containers — a makeshift warehouse — and across from a scruffy marina on Stock Island, the generous heart of the Florida Keys showed.

Key West Cares formed days after Dorian devastated Abaco Island and Grand Bahama Island.

And the nonprofit continues to collect emergency supplies — generators, food, clothes, bicycles, toiletries —meant for the people of Green Turtle Cay, a barrier island.

As millions of dollars continue to pour in from the U.S., this small but mighty Key West-based volunteer effort persists.

“It has to,” said Mary Simmons, of Sugarloaf Key, a volunteer helping divide up individually wrapped bags of toiletries destined for adults and children suffering from the aftermath of the vicious storm.

Simmons worked there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday.

This altruism, however small in comparison to the national response, is no mere gesture.

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A Big Pine Key girl wrote this note to a Bahamian child who will receive a care package from Key West. Big Pine Key was hit hard by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Key West Cares has so far sent nine small planes filled with supplies since the group formed days after Dorian struck. The first ship filled with more goods is set to sail within a week.

And recent donations have included two 20-year-old fire trucks from the city of Key West.

A unanimous City Commission last month decided to send them to the mainland first and then by barge to Green Turtle Cay, which is Key West’s sister city.

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“It’s a pleasure to do it to help out anybody, especially our sister city that would need the help right now,” said City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, in a video posted on Key West Cares’ Facebook page.

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Liz Levi, left, and Mary Simmons sort through donations of toiletries destined for Green Turtle Cay in the Bahamas. Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

“The two trucks ought to be perfect for them,” Wardlow said.

While Simmons showed a visitor notes written by Keys children to Bahamian kids, a couple from Big Pine Key drove up with more clothes to donate.

“We have a Bahamian family staying with us,” said Kay DeLoach, as her husband, the Rev. Ernie DeLoach of Keys Community Church waited in their van.

“Two girls who recently finished college, a daughter and a niece and a mom and dad,” Kay said. “We spent ten years in Marsh Harbour. We’ve known the dad since he was a little boy.”

Simmons’ home on Sugarloaf remains damaged by Hurricane Irma, which struck the Keys in September 2017. She knows she’s lucky, though, in comparison to the Bahamians she is trying to help recover.

“At least I had a FEMA trailer in the driveway within weeks,” she said.

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Gwen Filosa FLKeysNews.com

Key West Cares says it needs volunteers on Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its warehouse container site at 6000 Peninsular Ave. on Stock Island. Volunteers do not have to commit to the whole day.

To learn about volunteer opportunities, email keywestcaresvolunteers@gmail.com.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.
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