For the second year in a row, Esmond cleared the past-due bills of at-risk households before Christmas.
A Florida business owner turned Santa for 114 households this year by paying off their overdue utility bills before Christmas. Mike Esmond of Gulf Breeze, Florida, explained that he decided to give back this holiday season because he remembers what it's like to spend a winter without heat or electricity. The 74-year-old's generosity started last year when he paid the past-due bills of 36 households who were at risk of having their utilities shut off, which added up to $4,558. However, this year, with both Hurricane Sally and Covid-induced economic turmoil hitting his community, Esmond felt the urge to up the ante.
A Florida business owner who was once down on his luck is giving back by covering the utility bills of 114 families who were facing disconnection https://t.co/zgBor06UOI— CNN (@CNN) December 11, 2020
"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 told CNN. "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." His generosity comes from a place of understanding and empathy as he and his family spent one winter in the 1980s without heat after their utilities were shut off. "I have been down on my luck like people are today, where I had trouble paying bills and raising three daughters," he recounted. "The gas company shut the gas off and we didn't have any heat."
Florida man pays bills for 114 families who were at risk of having utilities shut off https://t.co/kYNJ5oMaXj pic.twitter.com/Bktc3F7zvP— The Hill (@thehill) December 11, 2020
"We had ice and icicles hanging out the window inside the house," Esmond told ABC News. "I didn't want anyone else to go through that same thing... I wanted to do something that I knew would really make a difference for people around Christmas time." Joanne Oliver, the city's utility billing supervisor, revealed that Esmond donated $7,615.40 to pay for the past-due bills of 114 households this year and that holiday cards notifying the residents will be mailed this week.
For the second year in a row, a 74-year-old businessman from Gulf Breeze, Florida, paid off local residents’ overdue utility bills to ensure they could heat their homes through the holidays. “I know what it’s like to really be broke and in need,” he said. https://t.co/Mx2diamAky— The New York Times (@nytimes) December 12, 2020
Esmond explained that he was able to help a lot more households this winter as there were many residents who had bills due of $100 or less. "That really impacted me -- that people can't even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad," he said. "That's why I was able to pay for 114 families." The owner of Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas revealed that business was good in 2020; something he says he's "almost ashamed" to tell people because he knows how hard it's been for many. "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.
#GoodNewsRUHLES: Decades ago, Mike Esmond and his young family were left without heat after he couldn’t pay their utilities bill.— Stephanie Ruhle (@SRuhle) December 23, 2019
That experience inspired him to pay it forward this year. Check out what he did to help 36 families in his community: pic.twitter.com/7bez1OTPr6
"I've been in the customer service industry for a little over 20 years," said Oliver. "Never have I seen this type of generosity come from anyone." She added that Esmond's good deed has had a ripple effect in the community with other residents calling in to see how they can help. "There's definitely been an outpouring in the community," Oliver said. She explained that keeping in mind the pandemic's havoc on the city, residents are getting a longer grace period before their utilities for water, gas, and sewer are disconnected. "We're not cutting customers off. We're not disconnecting them for nonpayment until they are more than 60 days past due," Oliver said.
"Never have I seen this type of generosity." https://t.co/LDAZkyQESI— ABC News (@ABC) December 23, 2019
Esmond's check primarily helped cover the bills for people who were 60 days past due and the remaining amount was used to pay the bills of those who were more than 30 days overdue and had a COVID-19 deferral. "Even though our country and our city is currently going through probably the most difficult years of some of our lifetimes, there are still people out there who are generous and kind and really do want to help others," Oliver said. "To have others within the community wanting to reach out and help their neighbors now is more important than ever."