A local businessman took one step further than most when he decided to help islands in the Caribbean after being devastated by Hurricane Irma. Matt Widdows, CEO of HomeSmart International, flew his plane to the islands from Sept. 12 to Sept. 17, delivering medical supplies, generators and cold sodas to those in need.
“I knew that I had a resource in myself and the plane that I have,” Widdows said. “I felt like I just needed to do something and help out.”
Widdows has experience with charitable work through Angel Flight, so using his plane to help others was nothing new to him. He did his research and used his contacts within Angel Flight and other organizations to get the word out that he was leaving. Soon after that, he was flying 2,000 pounds of materials to the islands affected by the storm with each trip.
“We do a lot of charitable things through HomeSmart but a lot of the things we do too are direct hands-on,” Widdows said. “I really enjoy those direct hands-on because you know where that time and money are going. You can see the effect that it’s having and that’s a big deal to me.”
Based in San Juan, Widdows typically stayed around the airports. Besides bringing materials, he also helped with evacuating people to Ft. Lauderdale. There were moments when his plane was filled with adults, kids and even dogs. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the damage each time he flew in and out generated a feeling that couldn’t be accurately portrayed through video and photos.
“St. Martin was something right out of a movie – there were refugee camps and military and people displaced all over the airport,” Widdows said. “When we flew in we could see boats just piled up on top of each other and trees with no leaves, no branches, houses destroyed. That was pretty impactful. It felt surreal as we flew in and landed.”
It’s when everything is taken away that people begin to appreciate the small things. Widdows worked with a ground crew in St. Marten who helped him unload his plane and the one thing that they requested were cold sodas. “They were the happiest people in the world” after Widdows came back the next day with a cooler filled with cold drinks. It was being able to see those individual impacts that he made, small or large, that stood out to Widdows.