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Neighbors Want to Help Family Left Without Electricity, Water after Storm

12:17 PM, Mar 17, 2010   |    comments
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BAKER COUNTY, Fla -- When word of the Simmons family's living situation began to spread, a couple of Baker County residents quietly began helping the family survive.

Kenneth Simmons' family of seven has lived in a crumbling home without power and running water for 15 months. The last time the family had electricity in their rural Margaretta home was December 2008. 

Since then, the mother, father, two children and three other adult relatives have been living in the remnants of the damaged home. The 2008 storm knocked out one home on the property, blew off part of the roof and knocked out windows and a door on the other building.

A year and three months later, they are waiting for someone to help make the repairs they cannot afford.

Most of the adults in the house were laid off during the economic downturn and have struggled to find work since. The home they now share was built before building codes were in place, and today's insurance companies will not cover it.

Applications for assistance have been filed with federal, state and local agencies but all have been denied because the family fails to meet the specific requirements of each.

To survive, the family walks to a local park each day to collect jugs of water for cooking and bathing and uses a camping stove in a dark kitchen to prepare meals.

"My two sons don't have no complaints. They do ask me, 'Dad when we going to get a house?' I tell them, just keep praying," Kenneth Simmons said.

Simmons' church, New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, took up a collection of $300 after the disaster first happened.

"It was important to me because they need help," said Harrie Evans, of the little donations the church members could spare.

Macclenny resident Faye Turner first learned of the family's struggle three weeks ago, after reading an article in the local paper. 

"I though to myself, 'I have had two wonderful Christmases since this happened to them, and what kind of Christmases did they have?'" Turner said.

Turner is a widow living on a fixed income, but five times now, she's cooked the Simmons a hot, homemade meal and delivered it to them. She's also given extra clothes out of her own closet.

"Just the conditions they were living in. It really touched my heart and I thought, what a shame -- right here in my own county, living like that. It bothers me very much. I feel like our political figures could have done something more before now," Turner said.

The Baker County Commission is setting up an account to take in donations. Commissioner Michael Crews says they're tapping local resources to find people who could help rebuild a home.


The county government is also hoping that state funding will come through by the end of April. Right now, the county has $300,000 of federal money in an account to help low income families, but a state rule change limits the use of the money to down payments.

Through the Homeless Prevention Act, the county has $8,000 that can be used for utilities and rent, if they can find a place for the family to stay. That would only be a temporary solution, however; the commissioner said the family needs a new home.

Since our story first aired Monday night, First Coast News has received dozens of emails from people offering everything from carpentry skills to funds. We are channeling those offers to the proper authorities so the donations go where they are needed most. 

Those interested in helping the Simmons family are encouraged to call Baker County Manager Joe Cone, at (904) 259-3613.

First Coast News will continue to follow this story.

First Coast News

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