A Florida man paid off the utility bills of 114 families who were facing disconnection.
Business owner Michael Esmond paid the utility bills of 36 households last year in his community of Gulf Breeze, and this year, he thought he needed to up the ante due to COVID-19 and Hurricane Sally.
"This year to me probably is more meaningful that last year with the pandemic and all the people out of work having to stay home," said Esmond. "Hurricane Sally slammed us pretty good and hurt a lot of people. We still have a lot of the blue roofs here, where they're just covered with tarps."
According to Joanne Oliver, the city's utility billing supervisor, Esmond donated $7,615.40 to pay off the past-due bills of 114 households
Esmond's donation increased from $4,600 last year, and he says he was able to help about three times as many households because many residents had bills due of $100 or less.
"That really impacted me — that people can't even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad," said Esmond. "That's why I was able to pay for 114 families."
Esmond, 74, had a good business year in 2020 for his Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas. He said it is something he's "almost ashamed" to tell people because he knows how hard 2020 has been for many.
"We've had a good year, and that's why I want to share what I have with the people who need it," Esmond said.
Oliver said that, given the pandemic, residents are getting a longer grace period before their utilities for water, gas, and sewer are disconnected.
"We're not cutting customers off. We're not disconnecting them for nonpayment until they are more than 60 days past due," Oliver said.
Oliver said the check Esmond wrote covered the bills for people who are 60 days past due, and the remainder covered those who were more than 30 days overdue and had a Covid-19 deferral.
"Even though our country and our city is currently going through probably the most difficult years of some of our lifetimes, there are still people out there who are generous and kind and really do want to help others," Oliver said. "To have others within the community wanting to reach out and help their neighbors, now is more important than ever."
Esmond said his generosity was inspired by having experienced a power shutoff himself.
"I have been down on my luck like people are today, where I had trouble paying bills and raising three daughters," Esmond said. "The gas company shut the gas off and we didn't have any heat. I can relate to people suffering and not being able to pay bills. That's probably one of the biggest motivators for me, because I've been there...People can't afford to pay their bills and put food on the table, so I hope doing my part and paying some bills for these folks takes a little bit of stress off of them around Christmas time."