Fla. Man Pays Off Utility Bills for Dozens of Struggling Families for the Second Year in a Row
A Florida man who helped dozens of families last holiday season is giving back to his community yet again – and this time, he's assisting more than 100 families in need.
Ahead of Christmas in 2019, Michael Esmond paid nearly $4,600 in gas and water bills for 36 Gulf Breeze families whose payments were past due after he experienced similar circumstances back in 1983, PEOPLE previously reported.
So when the holidays rolled around this year, Esmond, 74, felt compelled to do it again — especially after a difficult year that saw Florida pummeled by Hurricane Sally and the economic impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to CNN.
"This year to me probably is more meaningful than last year with the pandemic and all the people out of work having to stay home," the Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas owner explained to the outlet. "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."
With Esmond's generous $7,615.40 donation to the city, he was able to help 114 families who were facing disconnection of water, gas and sewer services, Joanne Oliver, the city's utility billing supervisor, confirmed to CNN.
"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," Esmond explained to the outlet.
In the months leading up to his donation, Esmond said his pool business had been doing well amid the pandemic — and admitted to CNN that he was "almost ashamed" to tell people that because of how many have struggled this year.
"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.
When Esmond reached out to the city, he said he learned that many of the families in need were facing bills that were $100 or less. Because of that, he was able to help three times as many households as he did in 2019.
"That really impacted me — that people can't even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad," Esmond told CNN. "That's why I was able to pay for 114 families."
Oliver explained to the outlet that the city was providing a longer grace period to families before they cut utilities and that the households Esmond helped had bills that were more than 60 days late.
The rest of his donation went toward families who were more than 30 days late with their bills and were using a COVID-19 deferral, CNN reported.
"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 told CNN. "To have others within the community wanting to reach out and help their neighbors now is more important than ever."
As PEOPLE previously reported, Esmond first decided to give back to families in need after he and his three daughters spent Christmas 1983 in the cold after he could not afford to pay the heat and power bill.
That year also happened to be a record-breaking year for Pensacola, as the temperature dropped to just 9 degrees.
"We had icicles hanging off our windows," Esmond recalled to the Pensacola News Journal in 2019, adding that he paid off 36 families' gas and water bills to ensure that no one in his community ever had to endure the same experience he did.
"I have been down on my luck like people are today, where I had trouble paying bills and raising three daughters," Esmond recently told CNN. "The gas company shut the gas off and we didn't have any heat."
Like last year, the city of Gulf Breeze will be sending out holiday cards to the households who were at-risk, notifying them that Esmond has paid off their bills, CNN reported. Those cards are expected to be mailed out this week, Oliver told the outlet.
"I can relate to people suffering and not being able to pay bills," Esmond added. "That's probably one of the biggest motivators for me, because I've been there."
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