‘Outpouring of love’: Owners of Fort Myers Beach restaurant destroyed by Ian donate $100K

Published: Updated:

A storm surge wiped her out, until all this Fort Myers Beach mother had was a hammer and hope. In came WINK News Investigates Reporter Celine McArthur, who introduced you to, “A Man with a Plan,” and created a storm surge of another kind: A tidal wave of community hope.

As Tammy Drake climbs into the cab of this excavator, and prepares to level her Fort Myers Beach home, she’s feeling… a mix of emotions.

“Part of me is beyond ecstatic,” said Tammy. “I don’t have to look at that anymore, and we have something beautiful and flood-proof going in. Then, you know, that’s where my kids were born and raised. And there are so many memories in that house.”

But the memory of riding out Hurricane Ian with her daughter Maddy, watching their house—their HOME—disappear into the storm surge, is one they never want to re-live. So, this house has got to go!

Demo day has been more than a month in the making. Once this debris is hauled away, it’s time to build this! These are the plans for a raised home, that hopefully will never flood again. It’s about a $350,000 project, when you factor in materials and labor. Joe Orlandini says his suppliers have stepped up in a big way, and neighbors pitched in. Then, after our story aired, there was a tidal wave of support.

“People wanting to supply roofs. People wanting to contribute and donate cabinets, labor and even time. Even furniture! I had someone that said, ‘I want to do Maddy’s bedroom with the mermaids!’ That was really, really cute and nice.”

A birds-eye view of the demolition. CREDIT: WINK News

Tammy is overwhelmed by the support.

“Oh, so much outpouring of love,” said Tammy. “I have people come up to me multiple times a day just saying they saw the story. They’re all teared-up, which makes me all teared-up. And the responses have been absolutely beautiful. Just beautiful.”

Then came THE BIG ONE. A WHALE of an opportunity from WINK News viewers Mike and Dawn Miller who watched our story about Tammy and Maddy.

“We absolutely love the story,” said Mike. Dawn added, “We felt for her. We want her daughter back home with her. We’re like, we’ve got to figure out a way we can help!”

This, while they’re also rebuilding their Fort Myers Beach landmark! The Millers bought The Whale restaurant in June of 2022.

“We absolutely fell in love with it,” said Mike.

But three months later, it was gone. Wiped out by Hurricane Ian.

The Millers say they’re not leaving, and believe their neighbors, who were relative strangers, should be able to stay put, too.

So, Mike reached out to Joe… with a plan of his own.

Joe recounted the conversation on text. “He says, would $100,000 help? Completely blown away, I texted back Mike. I think, Oh, my God! I can’t believe it. Are you serious? You know, for real?”

It’s real. Our cameras were rolling when the Millers handed Tammy a check for $100,000.

Tammy’s first reaction: “You know I’m going to leave here and go puke, right?”

After the news sunk in, she said, “I was in shock. Just absolutely shock. I mean, they have so much to rebuild already between their home and their business, and to give to my family’s… it tears at the heartstrings. Beautiful thing.”

Construction vehicle tearing down a Fort Myers Beach restaurant. CREDIT: WINK News

And then it happened again.

Another big donation.

$20,000 from a neighbor, who asked to not be identified by name.

With a plan in hand, money in the bank, and a community behind them, Tammy is ready to build a new foundation.

A Man with a Plan Series

The future of Fort Myers Beach: The man with a plan

Many of you closely follow what’s happening on Fort Myers Beach, especially if you live or work there. Decisions made now and in the near future about how to rebuild will impact everyone with a stake on this island. “I’m sorry for being so emotional,” says Fort Myers Beach resident William Dean Simmons. It isn’t […]

The future of Fort Myers Beach: The personal side of progress

It’s been just over three months since Hurricane Ian devastated Southwest Florida. For some in Fort Myers Beach, the aftermath has been the most challenging time of their lives. WINK News is profiling the rebuild of the barrier island town through the eyes and experiences of a local builder. In part one of the series, […]

Fort Myers Beach man to build $350k home for Hurricane Ian victims

Can the character of pre-Hurricane Ian Fort Myers Beach be saved? In our special series, “A Man With a Plan,” we’re profiling the rebuild of the barrier island town through the eyes and experiences of a local builder. He says the answer is yes—one family at a time.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.