VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Dive Hearts, a volunteer group, the Lynnhaven Dive Center and a local foundation, Hillier Ignite, teamed up to bring supplies to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief.
“When people start seeing other people helping out and it ignites a passion, it's infectious," said Lindsey Hillier-Hotchkiss.
She's referring to when Hillier Ignite flew supplies to Corpus Christi to help Hurricane Harvey victims.
It all started when a group of more than six women, who are good friends at the dive center, wanted to help St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma's destruction. Joy Haycox, is a huge dog lover and focused her efforts on helping the furry friends. The dive center started collecting dog food and Haycox along with Susan Sarrett began taking trips to Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. Sarrett wanted to focus on the people who desperately needed aid. So the women formed a new volunteer group called Dive Hearts. They have been to help six times.
The dive center took action and posted items they were collecting on social media. For electrical kits, they were collecting small tailgate generators, gas cans, extension cords, chargers, batteries, personal fans, flashlights and more. The dive center would also make food kits complete with peanut butter, canned meat, juice boxes, baby formula along with collecting items including diapers and bug spray.
"It's amazing once it got out, constantly people are coming in. All day long, for weeks!" said Hiller-Hotchkiss. She said it made her so happy to walk out and see the whole wall at the dive center lined with supplies. They would pack up the items and the wall would be filled up again.
However, generators can't easily be taken on commercial flights. That's when Dive Hearts, teamed up with Hillier Ignite, to bring 21,000 pounds of supplies to Puerto Rico.
"When we found out there was a plane we could put generators on that we can’t put on commercial flights, it made all the difference for us. To bring really powerful generators to communities," said Kathy O'Hara with Dive Hearts.
On this particular trip, the groups set up make-shift road-side stands where people can come and pick up supplies. They also gave out generators to families.
"As soon as we showed up the lady started screaming and crying. It was... it was amazing. It fills your heart being able to help somebody like that but it's sad to see how much need they have," said Luke Hillier.
Hundreds of people were able to get supplies they desperately needed thanks to Dive Hearts, Lynnhaven Dive Center and Hillier Ignite. But it's not just about the donations, but the connection with another person.
O'Hara shared a story about how she connected with a young teen on a previous trip to Puerto Rico and saw her again Monday.
"She came back and said I made this for you. I looked and said what is your name? and she said I wrote it on the back. It says to someone special for Elisemarie thanks for your friendship and help, I'll never forget you. That’s what it is. It's people touching people."
The Dive Center is still taking donations. Head to their Facebook page for more information.