Gary Matern, president and general manager of O'Brien Auto Park of Fort Myers, estimates nearly all 145 employees working at his Hyundai-Subaru-Mazda dealership sustained some level of property damage to their homes and cars.
"I do not yet have an exact account of every employee. Some are still making their way back from out of state," Matern said last week. "It ranges from minor damage to several employees with extreme losses."
One of Matern's employees is Riki Burkhart, who has worked at the dealership for the past 12 years. The home she shares with her mother and stepfather in Buckingham, a community east of Ft. Meyers, is located in one of Hurricane Irma's hardest hit areas.
"When the storm first hit our area, we seemed to have gotten through that okay. But through the night, we went to sleep and woke up in the morning. It was raining and the water continued to rise," Burkhart said. "We walked out into the garage, which began to flood and eventually started to seep into the house. The garage flooded with about two feet of water. Outside, the water level almost covered the tires of the cars sitting in the driveway."
At that point, Burkhart recalls gathering what they could and evacuating in a truck that survived the flooding.
"It looked like a river. You couldn't see the road. There were power lines down everywhere," she added. "It was dangerous driving out, but we really had no choice."
The NADA Foundation's Emergency Relief Fund is working closely with the Florida Automobile Dealers Charitable Fund to provide relief to dealership employees who suffered substantial property damage as a result of Hurricane Irma, that is not covered by insurance or government aid.
"Dealers should be encouraged to contribute to these funds because every single dollar donated goes directly to dealership employees who have suffered uninsured losses," said Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association.
Dealers and dealership groups can donate online to the Emergency Relief Fund, which is dedicated exclusively to providing financial assistance to dealership employees who sustained property damage from hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
"Our home was completely flooded. It's not livable. What was in the house is ruined. We have to rebuild," Burkhart said. "And several vehicles we own are a total loss." Burkhart and her family are currently staying at the home of a family friend.
Dealership employees can apply here for financial assistance. (Lost wages or commissions are not eligible for reimbursement.)
Personal or corporate checks can be made payable to Emergency Relief Fund, c/o NADA Foundation, 8400 Westpark Drive, Tysons, VA 22102. For more information, call 703.821.7102. (Donations to the NADA Foundation are generally tax-deductible; contributors should consult their tax advisors for details.)