PARMA, Ohio — Close to 1,200 miles separate greater Cleveland from the devastation in Southwest Florida left by Hurricane Ian, but Northeast Ohioans aren’t hesitating to offer help.
At Mario’s Barber Shop in Parma, a growing pile of non-perishable food, hygiene items and home goods appeared seemingly overnight when owner Mario Innocenzi put out a call for donations.
“Northeast Ohio is incredible,” he said. “Any time we put the word out that we’re collecting, they come in with carloads.”
Innocenzi first began hosting disaster relief drives in 2016, when a wildfire in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park tore through Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
“When we were coming back from vacation, we were supposed to stop in Gatlinburg. And we saw the fires and the devastation there and it just hit us,” Innocenzi recalled.
Since then, the barber shop on Broadview Road has collected relief supplies for numerous disasters around the country. Innocenzi said the generosity he sees from customers, neighbors and strangers never ceases to amaze him.
“I’d come in here in the morning and we’d have piles and piles of stuff just left out outside. I was in tears most mornings, I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
Wally Ohler, who was dropping off supplies Thursday, added, “I’m just honored to help this man any time he wants to reach in his heart.”
In Elyria, a similar effort is underway to help victims of Hurricane Ian.
“When you see your neighbor destroyed, it’s like - what can you do? I want to help out my neighbor and I know other people want to,” said Xavier Pepple, the General Manager of Great Lakes Honda West.
Earlier this year, the car dealership collected donations for Ukrainians fleeing their homes after Russia invaded the country.
“Everybody got together and helped Great Lakes Honda, along with Columbia Road Mission, fill three 53 foot semis that we were able to ship and get to Poland,” he said.
The success inspired the dealership and church to team up again to collect supplies for Southwest Florida. Anyone can drop off donations to a pod in the Elyria car lot. Volunteers from Columbia Road Mission will accompany and help distribute the supplies at their destination.
Lake County trucking company BMLM Express LLC is donating its time and resources to transport supplies collected at Mario’s Barber Shop. Innocenzi will also join the trip.
“Once we fill up the 53-foot container and my trailer, then we’ll close up, lock up shop for a week and go,” he said.
Both initiatives are confident in the generosity of Northeast Ohioans.
“We’re grinders,” said Pepple. “With our sports teams we’re committed, we’re loyal, that’s what we’re all about. And we want to let the Floridians know we’ve got their back as much as we possibly can.”
Innocenzi added, “We can’t do it without your support in Northeast Ohio. It’s not me. It’s the people of Northeast Ohio that brings it.”
Both drives are looking for new items, including donations of non-perishable food, baby formula, diapers, hygiene products, blankets, flashlights and batteries.
If you’d like to help, you can drop donations off at:
-Mario’s Barber Shop: 7526 Broadview Road, Parma, OH 44134
-Great Lakes Honda West: 823 Leona St., Elyria, OH 44035
Columbia Road Baptist Church is also collecting monetary donations. Click on this link for more information.
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