Hurricanes are a frightening reality these days. It used to be that the idea of a destructive hurricane making landfall in the U.S. was a rare occurrence, but nowadays it seems like every year brings one or two potentially-devastating storms with it.
Luckily, we have a number of dedicated men and women in this country who have taken it upon themselves to help those who are suffering through the worst of these destructive storms. But what happens when one of those self-sacrificing individuals returns to find their own home ransacked as a result of the storm they had helped others to weather? Who helps them?
Army medic Luis Ocampo’s perfect life was about to be disrupted. He and his girlfriend Kailey Finch were living the quiet life with their infant son in Charlotte when he received a call from the North Carolina National Guard. They needed him to report to New Bern, a riverfront community, to help with hurricane relief.
Hurricane Florence had been ravaging the East Coast and small riverfront towns like New Bern were finding themselves increasingly flooded as the storm raged on. Ocampo was one of many reservists called in to help usher storm-wracked citizens get out of the flood zone and get to safety. It would not be an easy assignment.
Days of Rain
Ocampo was in New Bern for nearly 10 days, weathering the rain and strong winds as best he could as he did what he was able for the town’s affected residents. As floodwaters rose in the riverside town, the rest of the state also saw pretty severe weather patterns, even Ocampo’s hometown of Charlotte.
Back home, Ocampo’s girlfriend decided that she and their son should head for higher ground themselves. Florence was raging across the area and their best course of action was to head to her in-laws. The 20-year-old packed up her son and a few meager belongings and left for Ocampo’s parents’ house, she had no choice but to leave the dog home alone.
On September 21, a week and a half after he’d been sent to New Bern, Luis Ocampo came home. When he arrived at his home, he found it still standing – a good sign all things considered. But he did notice that something was off. His back door was wide open and their dog was running loose in their yard.
Ocampo brought his dog inside, then went looking around the house. Walking into the baby’s bedroom, he noticed that someone had broken in through their son’s window, by breaking the window locks with a shovel and then propping it up. They had been long gone of course, but they hadn’t left empty-handed.
Their house had been looted and some of his family’s most cherished possessions had been stolen by the culprits. Though it wasn’t just that they’d taken stuff, they had also trashed the house completely in their search for valuables, throwing clothes and belongings haphazardly about the place.
The looters, whoever they were, had stolen mostly electronics from the Ocampo home. The stolen items included a laptop he used to do schoolwork and several game systems. In addition to the obvious choices, however, the thieves had also managed to steal some other intrinsically valuable trinkets as well.
A Common Occurrence
Looting like this occurs often in hurricane-ravaged areas. When Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast a few years back, parts of New Jersey and Long Island were without power or heat for some time. As people evacuated coastal areas for higher ground, looters surged into beachfront communities to take advantage.
Ocampo’s spare gun was taken, as were two jars full of change, a box of valuable coins his grandmother had collected from around the world, and a good deal of jewelry. The looters were so thorough that they’d even stolen food from the fridge.
Seeking to recover at least some of the stolen items, specifically the coin collection, the young couple took to social media for assistance. Luis and Kailey posted about the break-in on Facebook and asked if anyone in the area had any information on the criminals responsible. Unfortunately, nothing came of it.
Nevertheless, their impassioned plea for information did spark a different kind of support. One of the couple’s friends in the National Guard, Mary Elise Capron, saw the post and decided to start a fundraiser for them. She set up a GoFundMe page for them, citing what an amazing friend and soldier Ocampo was.
A Fine Couple
“I am honored to know him and cannot believe something so terrible could happen to someone so dedicated to the service, his family and school,” she explained on the GoFundMe page. The page began gaining exposure almost immediately. People seemed more than motivated to help a soldier and his budding family recover from unscrupulous opportunists.
Within just 11 days, the fundraiser wound up reaching nearly $15,000. This surpassed Capron’s original goal of $5,000. The couple was completely bowled over. They couldn’t believe so many people had donated so much to help them reclaim their lost possessions. Still, $15,000 was far too much, they had to find a way to give some of it back.
Far Too Much
“It was overwhelming,” Kailey Finch explained to PEOPLE. “It was way more than we needed.” The couple asked Capron to shut down donations, telling her that they didn’t want to abuse anyone’s generosity by accepting far more money than they actually needed. Capron did as she bid, but that didn’t stop anyone.
Regardless of the fact that the GoFundMe goal had been surpassed and then shut down, generous benefactors still expressed an interest in giving. Unbidden donations kept rolling in so the couple decided the only thing they could do was to pay it forward. Ocampo and Finch started redirecting future donations.
Giving it Away
Since the $15,000 was more than enough to replace nearly all of their stolen property, the couple has begun giving away all subsequent donations to others who need help following the rage of Hurricane Florence. It isn’t just those hit by the storm that they wish to help either, it’s others in need as well.
A Surplus of Kindness
“Other people really need help that they can’t get,” explained Finch. Her boyfriend, the 24-year-old Army Medic, added that “We got more than we expected, and felt that it was our responsibility to show someone that same kindness that so many showed us.” True to their word, the couple started donating to the Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund.
It wasn’t just charities the couple donated to either. In addition, the Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, they also learned that one of their fellow soldiers had a tree fall on his house during the hurricane and had been living in a hotel because of it. With their donations, their hope is that he’ll soon be able to move back into his fully-repaired home.
Even though they are paying it forward, Ocampo and his girlfriend are exceptionally grateful for the donations. “A big part of wanting to give the donations comes from seeing how generous people have been, and I wanted to pay that back to someone else who needed help. We’re very happy none of us are hurt. We are so, so grateful.”