Ex-FF Gives Away Pandemic Supplies to FL Residents in Need

April 17, 2020
In March, retired Boynton Beach firefighter Luis Garcia began stocking up on bleach, sanitizer, masks and gloves after hearing reports about COVID-19. Now, he gives them away to those who need it.

Editor's note: Find Firehouse.com's complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic here.

In February, Luis Garcia was offering free classes and giving away Narcan to help combat the opioid epidemic in Palm Beach County.

Now, he’s focused on helping people get through the coronavirus outbreak.

The retired Boynton Beach firefighter and paramedic said he started stocking up in early March when he saw reports that there could be 100,000 deaths from the virus in the U.S. Using funds donated to his GoFundMe, he spent about $3,000 to buy as many supplies as he could, including bleach, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves.


Now, he’s giving it away to anyone who needs it.

He initially bought about 300 surgical masks and eight or nine boxes of gloves on eBay and Amazon. He has since purchased about 200 more masks and other items from local gas stations and convenience stores, bodegas and other places that are generally smaller than supermarkets and grocery stores.

The distribution is by appointment only, and anyone needing supplies must call in advance to make sure Garcia has it and is able to provide it that day. The phone number to determine availability and schedule a pickup is 954-859-4696.

Garcia wears a hazmat suit when giving out supplies, to protect himself and those who don’t already have masks.

“I’m being very careful about infection control,” Garcia said. “I wipe everything down with bleach."

Garcia said he did not want to spread fear or be a hoarder, but wanted to be prepared for himself and his community as he had been doing with the opioid crisis.

“I’m definitely not an alarmist, but this is a big deal,” he said. “The public has no idea how bad this is in Palm Beach County. ... I truly believe we’re going to be the epicenter of Florida, and I believe it’s very likely the U.S. will be the epicenter of the world.”

What Garcia did not initially anticipate was the speed at which toilet paper would sell out. He said after his initial purchase of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and bleach, he monitored prices online and purchased paper goods as their prices started to go up.

Jim Kovalsky, 55 of West Palm Beach, is a retired firefighter from Michigan. He first met Garcia when he learned of his giveaways of naloxone, often sold under the brand name Narcan.

Kovalsky, who has a background in computer science, developed a 911 alert application, eFirstAlert. He said he partnered with Garcia to help alert him to overdose or cardiac arrest reports in case he was nearby.

When Kovalsky learned that Garcia was helping people during this pandemic, he donated some money and offered to help with logistics.

"It was kind of a metamorphosis for him in continuing to assist people in what they need now,” Kovalsky said.

Garcia said he served 17 people on Monday and 20 people on Wednesday. He hopes to continue serving people every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday until his supplies run out. He says he has enough for about two weeks but hopes to stretch for four weeks.

Garcia said he does not have enough equipment to stock hospitals or entire fire-rescue stations but can give supplies to individuals and families who need it. Some of the supplies, such as a few N95 masks, are only for first responders or health care providers, while generic or surgical masks are for the general public.

After assembling kits with the items people need, he puts them in a bag or box that he puts on a table on his lawn. People who made appointments can drive up and pick out their package without getting out of their car. Garcia will ask a few questions beforehand and speak to people as they drive up to ensure the right person receives the right package.

Stephen LeVine, 49 of Boynton Beach, saw someone share a Facebook post from Garcia. His father, who is 75 and had his bladder removed due to cancer surgery, had just got out of the hospital and has a nurse coming to his house. They did not have enough gloves, masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper or paper towels.

LeVine thought Garcia’s setup might be too good to be true but pursued it after finding retailers were out of stock and sellers were charging high prices.

“When I first read it, I thought, ‘What’s the catch?’” he said. “I keep reading to the bottom to find the catch, but there’s no catch. It’s just out of the goodness of his heart. … He’s very understanding, personable, and he’s doing a great service.”


©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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