Lending sinkhole victims a hand

Penny Foote felt the need to help families — after the largest sinkhole in Pasco County history opened July 14 on Ocean Pines Drive in Land O’ Lakes.

“When I saw the two homes go in, my heart hit the floor,” Foote said. “I knew we had to do something and try to pull people together because it could’ve happened to anybody, even me.”

That same day, Foote created the Lake Padgett Families Sinkhole Relief Facebook page.

Debris and water removal of the sinkhole wrapped up on Aug. 13. The next steps for remediating the 260-foot-wide hole will be discussed by the Pasco County Commission at a later date. (Courtesy of Pasco County)

Through the group page, which now totals more than 2,200 members, Foote has coordinated the delivery of donations and supplies to displaced sinkhole families, and adjacent properties on Ocean Pines Drive and Canal Place.

Foote, who has partnered with United Way of Pasco and Pasco County Human Services, has met individually with each of the sinkhole victims, to inquire about various essentials — everything from food and clothing, to baby supplies and furniture.

Then, she posted to the Facebook page, soliciting needed items from group members and local businesses.

“Somebody comes and just brings it,” Foote said.  “The community’s just been donating tons and tons of stuff, and the families have been at my house multiple times getting everything they want.”

Besides donations, Foote also rallied numerous volunteers to assist displaced families in moving belongings from their condemned homes.

Including Land O’ Lakes residents, Footed said people from Tampa, Wesley Chapel and Odessa have all offered assistance, in some form or another.

The widespread community support, is “absolutely incredible,” she noted.

“There have been a lot of people pulling for them,” Foote said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

Now, Foote, with the help of Tampa-based realtor Danielle Sullivan, has organized an upcoming fundraiser benefiting families affected by the sinkhole.

The Lake Padgett Estates Sinkhole Family Day Fundraiser will be held Aug. 26, from noon to 5 p.m., at the Harvester United Methodist Church, 2432 Collier Parkway in Land O’ Lakes.

Besides numerous food trucks and local vendors, the event will feature a live band, yard sale, raffle and silent auction, and kid-friendly entertainment, such as a bounce house and face painting.

Foote hopes to raise at least $20,000. All of the proceeds will go to sinkhole victims shortly after the event.

It’s not the only sinkhole fundraiser going on this weekend.

The Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Skipper’s Smokehouse for a benefit concert on Aug. 27. The show, beginning at 5 p.m., will feature performances by several local acts, including, Stonegrey, Peace of Woodstock, Solar Exposure, and 4X.

And, other fundraisers have been held the past several weeks, including events hosted by Plantation Palms Golf & Country Club, Beef O’ Brady’s of Sunlake and In The Loop Brewing.

Foote, who runs a child day care business, lives about 1.5 miles from the actual sinkhole site.

She remains heartbroken by the sinkhole victims’ personal stories in the aftermath of the catastrophic event.

“These families are still struggling today, just like they were on Day 1. It’s still very difficult and very hard for them,” Foote said.

One of those affected is 77-year-old Emily Geldbaugh.

The retiree’s home was one of seven that’s been condemned, meeting the criteria for demolition.

The loss of her house, which she has owned for 14 years, was tough to grasp.

“It was shocking, and of course, sort of painful at the same time,” Geldbaugh said. “I felt pretty sad about it.”

Since the condemnation, Geldbaugh has been staying with her son’s family while she searches for an affordable rental home.
She noted the catastrophic event could have been worse.

“I’m just glad everybody got out, because if it happened earlier I don’t think they would’ve,” she said. “(My house) could’ve fallen in, too, who knows? I’m lucky that it’s still standing.”

The efforts of Foote and others have not been lost on Geldbaugh during this difficult time.

She is “totally amazed” by the community outreach received over the past several weeks.

“There’s a lot of wonderful people out there, and a lot of them came to help me move,” Geldbaugh said. “I mean, there’s been donations and a lot of good is going to come from all that.”

She continued: “(Penny’s) a wonderful lady. I know she can’t do it alone, but she’s been real gracious, and she’s really caring about all these people and their problems, and I think that’s wonderful. You don’t have very many people in the world like that.”

Terence Doohen, another sinkhole victim, expressed similar sentiments.

The 44-year-old also is “floored” by Foote’s efforts and the amount of donations others have provided, specifically mentioning nonperishable food, bottled water and toiletries.

“In my mind, it restores the idea that there is humanity left,” Doohen said. “At the end of the day, when something like this happens, and you see good people doing thoughtful things, it really restores your perspective on humanity once again.”

He added: “It’s eye-opening, and it really is heartwarming to know that people care out there.”

Doohen, along with his wife and 10-year-old son, were displaced over two weeks ago, when the Pasco County Building Inspectors Office red-tagged their lake house property — which they had owned for about two years.

The family is currently staying at a neighbor’s home, until they find a suitable rental.

“It kind of stinks in a way because that was our little house on the lake. When we bought it a couple of years ago, we put a lot of money into it — new kitchen, new windows, everything,” Doohen explained.

Doohen said his family — along with others affected by the sinkhole — will never be able to recover the full value of their house and property.

“Once that hole opened up — even if you’re living within five houses and didn’t have the condemnation letter — the value of your property just got slapped in half,” Doohen said. “At the end of the day, everyone (affected) is going to be worse off; that’s the sad part about it.”

A month later, he still recalls witnessing the sinkhole develop as he got ready for work that Friday morning in mid-July.

“It starts out as a 20-by-20 little puddle, and then all of a sudden it just starts opening up like a big reservoir and starts chasing the house next to it, and then the one on the other side of it,” he said.

“My blood pressure started rising when it started eating at the road,” Doohen said.

Upcoming fundraisers:
Lake Padgett Estates Sinkhole Family Day Fundraiser
Where: Harvester United Methodist Church, 2432 Collier Parkway, Land O’ Lakes
When: Aug. 26, noon to 5 p.m.
Cost: Free admission
Details: Food trucks, local vendors, live music, yard sale, raffle and silent auction, kid-friendly activities.
Information: email

Build it Back Sinkhole Relief
Where: Skipper’s Smokehouse, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa
When: Aug. 27, at 5 p.m.
Cost: Admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Details: Benefit concert featuring local bands Stonegrey, Peace of Woodstock, Solar Exposure, and 4X
Information: SkippersSmokehouse.com

Published August 23, 2017

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