As Hurricane Irma bore down on the town of Marathon in the Florida Keys last month, Bob Giles boarded a bus and evacuated with many of his neighbors, beginning a journey that would eventually take the 98-year-old to a senior housing complex in Petaluma.
The first stop for Giles, a World War II veteran, was a makeshift shelter in a Miami hospital. Confused and alone, he waited while the storm destroyed his home and all of his possessions.
Most of Giles’ extended family lives in California, including his ex-daughter in law, Kim Weiss, who works for a health care organization in Sausalito. Weiss had been in regular communication with Giles until the storm, which made landfall as an extremely powerful Category 4 hurricane. However, she lost contact with him during the chaos of the evacuation.
“It was crazy trying to track him down,” said Weiss, 51. “I called all the hospitals in Miami.”
She finally found where Giles had been sheltering, but she needed a place for him to relocate. As Giles didn’t have any family in Florida, she decided to bring him to the North Bay and began calling senior housing organizations in Marin. That’s when she came across PEP Housing of Petaluma.
“PEP was unbelievable,” Weiss said. “They found him an adorable place that I could bring him.”
But it wasn’t a done deal. There still was the issue of furnishing the west Petaluma apartment and transporting Giles across the country.
Mary Stompe, PEP Housing’s executive director, said she was looking to help some of the seniors displaced during the hurricane season. She was in Switzerland at the time, at a conference on aging, but she went into fundraising mode. Immediately they raised $3,000 and received several donations of houseware for the apartment.
“When I heard that Bob had lost everything, I said I think there is something that we can do,” Stompe said.
PEP Housing has nearly a 700-person waiting list for its senior housing complexes, yet Stompe said she was able to find Giles a place due to his extenuating circumstances. Weiss flew back to Miami, on her “Bob Giles Rescue Mission,” and the two were reunited.
The flight back was more arduous. Giles, a former tennis pro, normally walked with a cane, but he required a wheelchair to leave the hospital.
When they finally made it back to Petaluma, they found that Giles apartment was all set up, including fresh sheets on the bed and groceries in the refrigerator. Neighbors had even planted flowers in his garden.
Giles has since ditched the wheelchair and moves about with a walker, Stompe said.
“He’s doing so much better since he moved in,” Stompe said. “He’s been incredibly grateful.”
(Contact Matt Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.)