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Floridians come together to help forgotten Fort Myers community

East Fort Myers 2[18297].jpg
Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 19, 2022

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Long before the blue tarps, downed trees and endless piles of debris could be seen all over East Fort Myers, Pastor Patrick O’Connor of Jesus the Worker Catholic Church said the community had struggled.

“People live in sad homes, almost derelict homes, and they pay very large rents and then figuring out how to pay for food for children,” Pastor O’Connor said. “People really live hand to mouth.”

Pastor O’Connor’s church has served the mostly Latino and African American community in East Fort Myers for more than a decade. He described it as a forgotten community.

“Sometimes, when I talk to people in other parts of Fort Myers, they say 'East Fort Myers, where’s that?' Most people live in gated communities,” Pastor O’Connor said. “The reality is, all the people who work to make those places beautiful live here and no one knows about them, and no one knows about their daily trials and struggles.”

Since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, Pastor O’Connor said there’s been a focus on the great need in East Fort Myers.

“We have so many people who want to help, people coming from West Palm Beach and Clearwater,” Pastor O’Connor said.

A flood of supplies has been donated to the community, and it doesn’t appear to be at risk of running out anytime soon. One resident said for the first time in a long time, she feels supported.

“It’s kind of a blessing,” Kelly Bello said. “That’s all that matters. It’s very needed because the home that we have right now, it's got water inside. I’m a single mom. It’s not easy.”

Pastor O'Connor said he hopes these circumstances will help shed light on the East Fort Myers community and encourage people to be more open-minded in the future.

The community's greatest immediate needs are food, baby supplies and gift cards. Items and donations can be dropped off at Jesus the Worker Catholic Church at 881 Nuna Ave. in Fort Myers.