Gulf Breeze, Fla., business owner Michael Esmond donated thousands of dollars to pay the bills of 114 families who were at risk of having their utilities shut off. According to Gulf Breeze utility supervisor Joanne Oliver, Esmond paid $7,615.40 to cover the expenses of the bills, which were past-due. Holiday cards notifying the families that their utility bills have been paid will be mailed this week.
The Esmond started his giving spree last year, when he spent $4,600 to help out 36 families. This year, many of the households he paid for had bills under $100, but they were unable to make the payments amid the pandemic. “That really impacted me – that people can’t even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad. That’s why I was able to pay for 114 families” Esmond said.
“This year to me probably is more meaningful than last year with the pandemic and all the people out of work having to stay home,” Esmond, owner of Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas said. “Hurricane Sally slammed us pretty good and hurt a lot of people. We still have a lot of the blue roofs here, where they’re just covered with tarps.”
Esmond says he feels some guilt over knowing that his business did well during the pandemic, while most people have been struggling. “We’ve had a good year, and that’s why I want to share what I have with the people who need it,” he said. The 74-year-old veteran runs a pool and spa company, and he said business was good this year. Esmond could remember a time while raising his children when things weren’t so well. He couldn’t pay his bills in 1983, and his gas and electricity were cut off. “We had icicles hanging off our windows.”
Edmond’s generosity will likely alleviate some pressure for many who are struggling financially this holiday season and hopefully inspire others to act in kindness as well. His own inclination to act in such a way stems from the empathy he feels for people who are passing through difficult times. “I have been down on my luck like people are today, where I had trouble paying bills and raising three daughters,” he says. “The gas company just shut the gas off and we didn’t have any heat. . . That’s probably one of the biggest motivators for me, because I’ve been there.”
Gulf Breeze is a community of around 7,000 people, just north of Pensacola Beach. The city of Gulf Breeze has granted residents a grace period of 60 days to pay their bills due to the pandemic, but the families Esmond helped were past the 60-day mark.