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Dispatch from a hurricane shelter: 'I only saw the best'

By Thomas C. Tobin
Principal Michael Cloyd greets Carmen Silva at the Sunlake High shelter on Sept. 8, two days before Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Silva was the first evacuee to show, and she planned to have eight family members join her.

Conditions varied from shelter to shelter during Hurricane Irma. Here at the Gradebook, we've heard the good and the bad. But we thought we would share this account from Ruth Salvaggio, who hunkered down at Sunlake High. A copy of her letter (below) came with a handwritten note: "I thought the media would like to hear an encouraging story that came from Irma."

To the staff and volunteers at Sunlake High School:

I came home today after having spent three days and two nights at your shelter. In all the years that I have lived in Florida, this was the first time I ever went to a shelter. I had no idea what to expect.

To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement.

There were six of us signing in together, along with two cats and a dog. The registration was not only handled professionally, but kindly and compassionately. We were assigned to a small classroom where we could stay together. Directions were given as to where to take the animals, and a young man showed us to our room.

We were told that dinner would be served in the cafeteria. Actually, three meals a day would be served in the cafeteria. What? I didn't know this.

On our way back to our room, we saw a movie being shown on a huge screen on the wall. They also showed cartoons for the littles ones, and college football for the guys.

This is a shelter?

Although it was up to individual pet owners to make sure the dogs went for a walk and to check on any animals that they brought there, how comforting it was for them to know that their animals were being watched over by caring people from the SPCA.

Kudos to the young students attending Sun Lake who volunteered to assist the thousands who had been evacuated from their homes, and to the staff, custodians, teachers and others -- including the National Guard -- who left their homes to do what they could for others.

My friend and I offered to help clean up the cafeteria after meals. They accepted our offer and we heard so many thank-you's from grateful people.

We were kept informed by means of the intercom. Each time, the "residents" of the shelter were praised for their patience and cooperation.

Events like this bring out either the best or the worst in people. In this instance, I only saw the best, both in those who were sheltered and those who did the sheltering. Thank you, many times over ... thank you.

Ruth D. Salvaggio
New Port Richey