Children in foster care are some of the most vulnerable in our society. They have been through so much trauma already and are at a heightened risk of abuse and neglect.
When Hurricane Irma hit the coast of Florida, 70 foster kids found themselves at even greater risk. When the power at the home went out, the staff and children at SOS Children’s Villages Florida made their way to one of the hurricane shelters in Boca Raton. But after the power went off at the shelter, too, the sheriff told them they would need to find somewhere else to go.
In a panic, they tried to figure out what to do, and that’s when someone called Marc Bell.
Bell is a former executive of adult magazine Penthouse and has been on the SOS board for about five years. It all started when he was trying to figure out what to do for his 45th birthday. He knew he didn’t need another party, but he wanted to do something memorable, so he decided to take the children from SOS to Disney World. After riding the rides with the kids and getting to know them, he knew he wanted to devote more time to the organization.
“It was a magical experience and I managed to talk to all the kids and get to know them,” he said.
Bell and his wife, Jennifer, live in a $30 million, 27,000-square foot mansion in Florida. When they heard the kids needed a place to go, they immediately told them to come on over.
“They were traumatized before the storm,” Bell said. “Now, they were traumatized because they had no place to go.”
“I said ‘Bring them here to the house,'” he continued. “Thirty minutes later they were walking through the door.”
The Bells ordered 20 pizzas and made sure everyone bathed and had clean clothes (which took 36 loads of laundry!).
“They hadn’t showered in five days, no laundry in five days, they were starving,” Bell said with a laugh. “Never seen so many kids so excited by pizza pie in my life. Twenty of them disappeared in seconds.”
At first, the couple expected to host the kids for just a couple of hours until they found another shelter, but those hours turned into a couple of days!
“We celebrated three birthdays, two doctor visits and a tooth fairy,” Bell said. “It takes a village.”
The kids, who ranged in age from 2 to 17, had all brought sleeping bags and they slept for two nights in whichever rooms they picked. The Bells made sure they had their basic needs taken care of, and then they worked to make the time extra special.
Their home already has a game room with pool, air hockey, and arcade games, a Star Trek-themed home theater, a pool with waterfalls, a full basketball court, a library, and a gym. Then they brought in singers, clowns, and athletes to entertain the kids, teachers to do arts and crafts with them, an ice cream truck, and even someone to do manicures for all the girls. More than 100 of their friends and relatives came by to help at the house, working in 12-hour shifts.
“People don’t help each other anymore,” Bell said. “But this was an amazing show, how the community came together to help these kids. We asked and people came.”
On Wednesday, they got word that the power was back on at the foster home. Understandably, the kids were sad to leave. The time they spent with the Bells was like nothing they had ever experienced before.
“There was an abundance of love,” Bell said. “All these kids were getting one-on-one attention, which they never get. All the little kids were being held by someone and the older kids were getting one-on-one conversation.”
The Bells said they were happy to help out in this time of need.
“We always help people,” Bell said. “We never say ‘no.’ That’s just who we are.”
He added that they expected a big mess when the kids left, but the youths were actually neater and cleaner than their usual house guests!
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