When the historic Hurricane Irma hit Florida on September 9th, the results were devastating and the coverage afterwards gave the world a safe view of this devastation from a distance. However, some like Ben Flohr and Jacob Kokinda of Michigan City Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram and Justin Dallas of Dallas Services Landscaping felt a call to action.
“My little sister is a police officer down in Texas. She was involved in hurricane relief down in Houston. She was telling me a story about how some big corporations were taking donations and then selling those donated bottles and things and that got me mad. I said, ‘you know what, I’m doing this,’” said Flohr on his decision to make the journey south to Florida.
It was less than a week later when Flohr and his friends Kokinda and Dallas had gathered trailers and materials to take down to those in Florida who had been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Dallas provided the trailers and Michigan City Chrysler purchased 12 pallets of water. The three men were also travelling with a 50 foot trailer full of clothes, non-perishable food items, toys and more. Some items were collected, but the majority were purchased by Michigan City Chrysler and Dallas Services Landscaping.
Using Instagram to find the hardest hit areas, they were soon on their way, selecting Bonita Springs in the Naples area, as this was one of the most damaged areas in Florida.
Little did they know that a drive which was supposed to take 22 hours, would end up taking 38. With a total cumulative travel of 52 hours in three days on only four hours of sleep.
“It was a struggle. A big-time struggle,” said Flohr of the journey they were to undertake.
First, a part in their truck was malfunctioning and they got stuck when they had only made it as far as Lowell, Indiana and had to pull over and resituate some things. When they got a little further south to Lafayette, they ran into more problems and had to stop at a Sam’s Club to move the water pallets with a forklift.
Once they made it about forty minutes further south to Lebanon, Indiana, Dallas had a tire blowout on his truck. Because his tire and rim were specialty items, they were stranded in Lebanon for nearly six hours on the side of the highway. Fortunately, their friend drove from Valparaiso to Portage and opened the Discount Tire shop he manages, got the special rim and tire that Dallas needed and drove it to Lebanon to help change the tire.
“It was 6 o’clock in the evening, we’ve been on the road for 13 hours and we’re in Indianapolis,” said Flohr laughing at the absurdity of their seemingly endless struggles.
Thinking their troubles must surely be behind them, the three men headed south again and made it down to the mountains of Tennessee only to happen upon an accident that would waylay them for another four hours at least. This delay would further cause them to hit rush hour traffic in Atlanta the next morning and to make matters worse, south of Atlanta a trailer tire blew out.
“I’ll tell you, I was pretty frustrated and upset, right? At the end of the day, when we got down there and we got to see it all. Giving toys to kids who lost everything, giving food and water to people that haven’t had any for days. It just was like…you’d go through it a hundred times, to have that feeling of helping. It was well worth it,” said Flohr.
They finally arrived on September 24th. Once there, the men helped deliver supplies to people still stranded by the flooding and visited an elementary school which was being used as a shelter for people who had lost their homes.
Flohr and his friends unloaded 720 cases of water with 40 bottles in each case, totaling 30 thousand pounds of water.
The mass devastation that the friends saw was something that pictures and videos could not properly convey.
“To me personally, it was the most humbling experience I’ve ever been through. I haven’t seen devastation like that since I was in Iraq in 2007. It kind of hit home. It looked like a warzone,” said Flohr.
Still, Flohr, Kokinda, and Dallas were forever changed by this experience and have taken it upon themselves to make sure this isn’t the last time they jump into action for such a tragedy. Even with the challenges they faced, they are ready to take on a future challenge already, and Flohr is even preparing to go to Kenya with his wife and help build a school.
“We all talked about it and every year we’re going to do something like this. There’s always a tragedy somewhere, so I think every year when a tragedy happens, we’re just going to get together and do the same thing all over again,” said Flohr.
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