When Margate resident Stephanie Smith saw the firefighters at her front door, their arms filled with brimming grocery bags, she broke into a wide smile and welcomed them into her home.
Although she hadn’t dialed 911, it was still an emergency of sorts.
She and her family had moved to Margate from Missouri two years ago and have struggled to find work. Her husband, Eddie, landed a job at Target, but making ends meet with four children is still a battle.
“If you look in our cupboards and our ice box right now, they are bare, so this food is a blessing,” she said, suddenly weeping at the unexpected act of generosity. Smith is unable to work because of epilepsy.
The Margate-Coconut Creek Fire Department, working together with Margate’s school resource officers, recently delivered close to 500 pounds of non-perishable food to 13 Margate families in need.
Traveling in a ladder truck and a fire rescue unit, the 10 firefighters and school resource officers knocked on doors and delivered canvas bags filled with pasta, soup, cereal and canned goods to families identified by the Margate School Resource Officer Program. About 200 pounds of food were donated by a business that asked for anonymity; the firefighters and paramedics of Fire Rescue Station 98 then supplemented the gift by contributing more.
“We were lucky enough to receive this large donation, and instead of waiting until the holidays, we decided that people are hungry now and to share it now,” Captain Matthew Whiteshield said. “They may not be calling 911, but it’s still their time of need. If you ask any firefighter, they will tell you the same thing: We like helping people. So we’re excited to be able to do this.”
Smith said her family’s fortune began to change after meeting Atlantic West Elementary School Resource Officer Von Williams. “It’s amazing. No one ever helped us or looked out for us like this in Missouri,” said Smith, adding that her children also received Christmas gifts from Walmart through Margate’s Shop with a Cop Program.
Margate Mayor Joanne Simone rode along in the ladder truck, eager to meet residents and to be supportive. “This is just part of who I am,” said Simone, who worked as a Margate elementary school teacher for 35 years. “People helping people, that is what it’s all about.”
At John Roberson’s home, Margate Elementary School Resource Officer Amalin Guarino carried several bags laden with food into the kitchen, while Whiteshield invited four-year-old Joshua Roberson to sit in the truck and check out the fire hose.
Roberson, a single father, and forklift and crane operator raising nine children, said he is grateful.
“I’m so thankful that God sent the fire department our way, to acknowledge us, to see about us,” said Roberson, whose wife, Yucca, died of heart failure two months ago on Mother’s Day while waiting for a heart transplant. “I’m so grateful to have people who do care.”
Firefighter Jaclyn Mauricio, who helped deliver the food, knew she wanted to get into this line of work after witnessing a paramedic save her father’s life when he suffered a heart attack.
“I knew I wanted to help people,” said Mauricio, 23, “but usually when we show up, it’s because something bad has happened, so it’s nice for residents to see we’re also here to put a smile on their face.”
Firefighter Keith Kennedy, who served in Afghanistan, agreed. “It’s great to see the relief on parent’s faces,” he said. “It’s like when we go on calls and people are panicked, but then we bring that sense of calm to the room. We’re here to help.”
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