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Longboat Key trio launch a community-wide hurricane relief effort

The PODS storage unit put in the Publix parking lot on Bay Isles Road was filled with supplies in under two days.

Dr. Michael O'Neil in front of the POD in the Publix parking lot on Bay Isles Road. (courtesy photo)
Dr. Michael O'Neil in front of the POD in the Publix parking lot on Bay Isles Road. (courtesy photo)
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A generous-turned-grand effort among a trio of Longboat Key residents looked like a big white storage container in the Bay Isles Publix parking lot last week. 

But it was far more. 

The container was filled with supplies for North Port residents still struggling after Hurricane Ian, and the PODS unit will be returning for a second round of donations. 

“Dr. O’Neil came to me with the idea, and I supported it,” Dr. James Reed said, “But he was the mastermind.”

Susan Phillips and Dr. James Reed (Lauren Tronstad)
Susan Phillips and Dr. James Reed (Lauren Tronstad)

But Dr. Michael O'Neil gives all the credit to his patient, Susan Phillips, who is also assistant to the Town Manager. He said the idea was to make it convenient for people to donate by putting the container outside of Publix, but all he had to do was call Phillips.

And according to Phillips, “Dr. O’Neil and Dr. Reed get all the credit for this wonderful mission. They came up with this idea, paid for the pods and delivery to North Port.” 

The doctors split the cost, and Phillips found volunteers and coordinated with Janet Carrillo, Social Services Manager for the city of North Port. A list of needed and unneeded items was compiled and distributed to help steer donations. 

Longboat Key residents donated supplies and gift cards to help neighbors in North Port. (courtesy photo)
Longboat Key residents donated supplies and gift cards to help neighbors in North Port. (courtesy photo)

Unneeded items were clothes, shoes and peanut butter. Linens, batteries, laundry detergent and instant coffee were among the needed list.  

Getting the container filled to the brim with list items took a lot more than three people. Fanny Younger stepped up to manage and schedule volunteers during the donation hours, and it seems the rest of Longboat Key showed up to donate.

As if a fairy godmother waved a magic wand, nearly 10,000 pounds of supplies and more than $5,000 worth of gift cards filled the container in under two days. It was delivered to North Port, and its contents are being distributed to city employees.

“I reached out to my counterparts in North Port who are still coping with record flooding, water and power outages, and recovery efforts,” Phillips said. 

City employees are struggling at home with the same issues they’re assisting residents with at work. New bedding, socks and underwear were added to the list because so many employees are without water and can’t do laundry. 

“We are very appreciative to both doctors spearheading all the donation efforts,” Carrillo said, “We are humbled.”

The effort was so successful that the doctors tried to order a second container from PODS, but because the demand is so high since Ian, there’s a shortage. The original POD is under Dr. O’Neil’s name for a month, so he’s working on having the same one delivered back to Publix. 

He’s put in the requests, but hasn’t gotten confirmation on a pickup or delivery date yet. The responses have been a “when we get to it type of thing,” O’Neil said. 

In the meantime, the customer service desk in Publix is still collecting gift cards. 

“We live in a generous and amazing community,” said Phillips. 

The proof is in the POD.




Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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