Often, it is the children in foster homes that have had to go through very tough childhoods and more exposed to various forms of abuse. When Hurricane Irma hit the coast of Florida, seventy foster kids found themselves at even greater risk.
The hurricane caused the power at the home to go out,forcing the staff and children at SOS Children’s Villages Florida to move to the hurricane shelters in Boca Raton. But after the power went off at the shelter too, the sheriff informed them that they had to find somewhere else to go.
Anxiously they tried to figure out a way out so last minute, that’s when someone called Marc Bell. Marc Bell, a former executive of Penthouse magazine , has been on the SOS board for about five years. It all started when he was trying to figure out what to do for his 45th birthday, he wanted to do something memorable, so he decided to take the children from SOS to Disney World.
After a great day with the kids and getting to know them, he knew he wanted to devote more time to the organization. He said, “It was a magical experience and I managed to talk to all the kids and get to know them.” Bell and his wife, Jennifer, live in a $30 million, 27,000-square foot mansion in Florida. So when they were told that the children needed a place to go, they immediately told them to come on over.
Bell said, “They were traumatized before the storm. Now, they were traumatized because they had no place to go. I said ‘Bring them here to the house,’” he continued. “Thirty minutes later they were walking through the door.”
Bell and his wife then proceeded to order 20 pizzas and made sure all the children were bathed and had clean clothes. “They hadn’t showered in five days, no laundry in five days, they were starving,” Bell said with a laugh. “Never seen so many kids so excited by pizza pie in my life. Twenty of them disappeared in seconds.”
At first, the couple expected to host the kids for just a couple of hours until they found another shelter, but ended up having them over for a couple of days. “We celebrated three birthdays, two doctor visits and a tooth fairy,” Bell said. “It takes a village.”
The kids, who ranged in age from 2 to 17 years, had all carried sleeping bags and they slept for two nights in whichever rooms they liked, all the while, Bell and his wife made sure they had their basic needs taken care of, and then they worked to make the time extra special.
The couple’s home already has a game room with pool, air hockey, and arcade games, a full basketball court, a Star Trek-themed home theater, a pool with waterfalls, a library, and a gym. Then they brought in singers, clowns, and athletes to entertain the kids, teachers to do arts and crafts with them, an ice cream truck, and even someone to do manicures for all the girls.
Over 100 of the couple’s friends and relatives came by to help at the house, working in 12-hour shifts. “People don’t help each other anymore,” Bell said. “But this was an amazing show, how the community came together to help these kids. We asked and people came.” Two days later, they got word that the power was back on at the foster home. Understandably, the kids were sad to leave, given that the time they spent with the Bells was like nothing they had ever experienced before.
Bell said, “There was an abundance of love. All these kids were getting one-on-one attention, which they never get. All the little kids were being held by someone and the older kids were getting one-on-one conversation. We always help people. We never say ‘no.’ That’s just who we are.” He added that they expected a big mess when the kids left, but they were actually much neater than their usual guests!