On his fifth day of trucking down the Upper and Middle Keys last week, Jose Herrera parked his bright yellow pickup in front of a home in Islamorada. Canned hurricane supplies and water rattled in the flatbed.
Inside the house, the homeowner, a local schoolteacher, stood waist-deep in beach sand. Storm surge from Hurricane Irma had flooded the woman’s living room, and sand covered everything: the couch, the chairs, the TV, even the schoolteacher’s face, which Herrera says was “unmoving, unblinking.”
“She was in shock. It was so mind-blowing, so surreal,” recalls Herrera, co-owner of Islamorada Beer Co., over the phone on Monday morning. “We’d been making deliveries to Keys homes all week, but this is the first time I looked at my business partner and was like, ‘Uh, where do we start?’ ”
Herrera and his crew of volunteers loaded whatever sand-logged furniture they could salvage into a utility trailer and stored it inside a donated warehouse. Then, they treated the schoolteacher to a beer and supplies.
Herrera has been toiling in the swelter of the powerless Florida Keys, delivering food and supplies door-to-door to neighbors from Key Largo to Marathon.
Since Sept. 11, the day after Irma’s devastating eye made landfall over Cudjoe Key, Herrera has turned his Dodge Ram 1500 into a mobile relief center, brimming with electric chainsaws, heavy-duty trash bags, portable generators, canned vegetables, water, Gatorade and plastic sheeting. To contain all the supplies, Herrera says a friend built up the truck’s flatbed with makeshift plywood walls.
On one of the truck’s plywood walls, “We Heart the Keys Hurricane Irma Relief” is handwritten in black spray paint.
“I didn’t even have to think about it. This is our family. This is our home,” says Herrera, whose brewery is headquartered in Islamorada. “Someone told me this saying last week: ‘You can’t drown a Conch.’ It’s true. We’re too resilient.”
After Herrera posted photos of devastated homes on Facebook last week, donations have poured in from charitable friends of the Islamorada Beer Co. The brewery’s Fort Pierce location has become a distribution center and a drop-off area for donated goods.
The nonprofit Gotta Luv Them Fund, created by Hererra and his Islamorada Beer Co. partners, has already raised almost $20,000 on the fundraising website GoFundMe.com as of Monday afternoon, and another $5,000 from brewery employees’ donated wages and tips, he says.
After a week in the Keys, Herrera and his truck haven’t rested yet. An Islamorada couple, whose newly purchased Ikea furniture didn’t survive the storm, received a $600 Ikea gift card. He also delivered a pallet of bleach to Marathon City Hall and six gas-powered chainsaws to The Hurricane Bar and Grille.
On Monday morning, Herrera was refilling his truck with more donations. What he can’t fit on the truck has been loaded into cargo planes at Boca Raton Airport, bound for a small airport on Summerland Key.
“The power of people to do good is amazing, and all these volunteers are kicking butt right now,” says Herrera, who lives in Delray Beach.
Hurricane relief donations are being accepted at drop-off locations throughout South Florida, including Bousa Brewing Co. (7235 NE Fourth Ave., Miami) and Veza Sur Brewing Co. (55 NW 25th St., Miami). A list of dropoff spots can be found at GottaLuvThem.org/Floridakeysrelieffund.
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