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German family wind up in the right place at the right time Stranded evacuees get help from Bristol couple

by Teresa Eubanks, Journal Editor

The frightening stories about Hurricane Irma rampaging through Florida left one Bristol resident with a real desire to be of help.

Joni Read had told her husband Donnie she had been praying for a way to make a difference for a family in need.  When the two went to the Apalachee Restaurant in Bristol to eat Saturday, she found an opportunity.

After they went in and ordered their meal, “Something in her spirit told her to walk outside,” Donnie said.  As Joni started walking out the front door of the restaurant she saw a worried-looking woman come in, holding an infant and accompanied by a toddler.  They made eye contact.

Joni listened as the woman asked an employee where they could find a hotel room.  She was told it was unlikely she would find anything in the area.

“Do you need help?” Joni asked.  She did.  Hildegard Altenburger said she had been praying for help.

The two went to the table where the Reads were eating lunch.  Joni asked Donnie to walk outside and encourage the rest of the family to come in and join them for lunch.  Donnie found the woman’s distraught son, Andy Kirchberger, and daughter-in-law Polina Voinevych struggling to figure out where to go and what to do after fleeing from Sarasota.  “You could see they were physically and mentally exhausted,” said Donnie.  “The children’s mother was beside herself with worry.”

The German family had recently moved to Florida, where Andy was starting a real estate development business.

“They were leaving their brand new home on Sarasota Beach,” Donnie explained.  He said they had just moved in following the birth of their youngest child, one month old Florence.

Their escape from the storm was delayed.  First, Polina came down with a fever and was unable to travel right away.  At the same time, Andy stopped to assist some elderly neighbors who could not put up protective plywood over their windows on their own.  After that, he had to go to St. Petersburg to make preparations for several properties he was responsible for.

Hildegard, Polina, Florence, and 2 ½ year old Pina finished their preparations and drove to meet him in St. Pete Friday morning.  The two vehicles then began heading north, long after other evacuees had already gotten to safety.

They spent Friday night in Dunedin, then got back on the road around 5:30 a.m. Saturday.  When they arrived in Bristol that evening, they pulled in at the Apalachee after finding a spot to park together beside the building.

Hildegard went inside and after Joni heard she needed help finding a place to stay.  “I invited them to come in and eat with us and rest,” Joni said.  “I told them Donnie would call around and find them a place to stay.”

Although somewhat limited by their skill with English, the family managed to communicate with the Reads.  The couple decided to take the family to stay at a cabin they have in Telogia, but first they stopped to load them up with groceries and be sure their gas tanks were filled.

The next day, they met with the family and moved them into a rental home under renovation in Bristol where they could be closer by to be of help.

Early Monday, Andy left to go check on their home and the properties he manages.  Remarkably, their new home was not damaged.  The rest of the family left Tuesday after lunch to return to Sarasota.

“God blessed us with Joni and Donnie,” said Polina.  “We just didn’t know what would happen with us.”  It was frightening to find the roads almost deserted after their belated departure from Sarasota, especially since they did not know if they could even find a place to stay.

Hildegard was in tears when she tried to convey her appreciation for the hospitality her family found in Liberty County.  “The outcome taught me to believe in prayers and just give it into God’s hands.  He took care of it.”

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September 22nd, 2017



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