Toyota of North Miami

Operation BBQ feeds residents, first responders in wake of Hurricane Irma
by Kerry Curry
Jan/Feb 2018
Toyota of North Miami
Helping Hands
More than 800 residents and first-responders were fed by Toyota of North Miami’s Operation BBQ in Marathon, Florida, after Hurricane Irma.
As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, Toyota of North Miami set the wheels in motion to help first responders and residents of the Florida Keys.
Toyota of North Miami with the help of Anthony Damato, the dealership’s VIP sales manager, donated $2,000 worth of food and supplies while VIP customers Nick Gadient and Joseph Diaz helped organize a convoy of vehicles and 18 people to go to Marathon Key and Cudjoe Key to feed first responders and residents.
They called the September effort “Operation BBQ.” Gadient also helped secure donations from friends and vendors.
“When I brought the idea of doing this to Eric Friedman, the owner of Toyota of North Miami, and my boss, P.J. Smith, the general manager, they gave me their full support,” Damato says.
He brought some of his family members to help, but assistance also came from many places, including the dealership’s customers and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

Nothing Untouched
The Florida Keys were hit hard by Hurricane Irma.

Diana Venturini of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools saw Damato’s Facebook post about the effort. She put him in touch with Susan Bleemer, owner of Catering the Event, which caters functions for the school district.
Venturini also connected Damato with Lea Padron, deputy regional director for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who helped get the group permission to enter the Keys.
“Lea Padron worked tirelessly to not only get us permission to enter a restricted area but she also helped at the event,” Damato says. “Susan Bleemer donated a ton of food and supplies, all the trays, all the eating utensils and all the side items including macaroni and cheese, corn and beans.”
The dealership and Damato donated most of the meat and buns.
“We served over 800 local residents who were without power or water and the first responders who were on duty in both areas,” Damato says.
The group also delivered meals to about 30 U.S. Army first responders who were on duty at Marathon High School and also provided residents with toiletries and water.
“It was an honor to provide assistance to people on the Keys and to let them know people cared,” Damato says.
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