Former student collects donations to support residents post hurricane Ian


Courtesy of Ashley Lawter

Giving back. Former Altoona resident Ashley Lawter collects donations for affected civilians in Florida, post hurricane Ian. Lawter worked with her husband to raise over $1,200 in donations.

Hurricane Ian was labeled as a category four hurricane with winds reaching up to 150 mph. The hurricane initially hit the state of Florida on Sept. 28. 

In attempts to support the affected residents of Florida, former student Ashley Lawter and her husband James Lawter gathered donations from people all across the country. 

“We decided to go down to North Port, Fla. just after the hurricane hit. We stayed updated throughout the whole storm, and when it almost hit as a category five hurricane, we knew it was going to be really bad for everyone in that area,” A. Lawter said. 

In total the couple gathered 192 cases of water bottles, 100 sticks of deodorant, 200 toothbrushes, 52 tubes of toothpaste and a variety of canned and boxed food donations. 

“We drove through the neighborhoods in the North Port area and passed out water as we saw people in need. The remaining stuff was all donated to a local church that was giving to the community as well,” A. Lawter said.

Through these donations, over 100 families received supplies. 

“We reached out to our friends on Facebook and clients through our business to help raise the money,” A. Lawter said. “ We received $1,200 in donations, and every penny went to supplies.”

Thousands couldn’t get out, and were forced to stay put praying and waiting for help.”

— Kate Shakirov

Resident Kate Shakirov was one of the individuals who received supplies from the Lawter’s donations. The only word Shakirov could use to describe the aftermath of the hurricane was devastation.

“Everyone’s priority was to locate and rescue as many as possible. Roads were flooded. Houses were destroyed. Thousands couldn’t get out and were forced to stay put while praying and waiting for help. There was no power, no internet and barely any cellular service. People had no water, food or any supplies. Everything was destroyed,” Shakirov said.

Courtesy of Ashley Lawter

A. Lawter and J. Lawter own three businesses: Lawter’s Equestrian, a used car lot and a t-shirt and candle company titled Keystone’s Kreations. To transport the donations, the couple used one of their horse trailers. According to A. Lawter, the trailers are large enough to carry four horses or six cows, and they are 18 feet in length. 

“We drove 10 and a half hours to North Port. We bent the trailer and lost a whole tire because we were so overweight with supplies. I couldn’t say the exact weight, but it was a lot because we put as much as we could on the trailer. I do know that we had about 7,680 pounds in bottled water, but over 10,000 pounds in total supplies. Our motto was ‘If it fits, it ships,’” A. Lawter said. 

A. Lawter and Shakirov have known each other for years prior to the hurricane.

“The day after the hurricane, Ashley messaged me asking if we were okay, and she asked what can they do to help us and the community. My main concern was a drinking water,” Shakirov said.

According to Shakirov, the community in Florida is grateful for A. Lawter and J. Lawter’s kindness, and they value the work that the couple has done for the community.

“People not having any water is the worst. Therefore getting people the water was a priority for many. Ashley jumped right on it. Within a day, she told me that she and her husband James were coming to bring a trailer loaded with supplies that her family, friends and people in the community helped with and donated,” Shakirov said.

A. Lawter encourages everyone to volunteer as a resource for a natural disaster at least once in their lifetime as she believes it was an eye-opening experience.

“People lost everything. They have nothing. If you handed someone a toothbrush that was the most exciting part of their day because they haven’t been able to brush their teeth for weeks. There’s no safe water to drink, so they would have to brush their teeth with a water bottle,” A. Lawter said.  

Darrell Vanish has been a North Port, Fla. resident since 2015. During the storm he made it a mission to help out his neighbors.

“My neighbor’s sister needed tarps for her home, so I went to the church where the national guard was and got some tarps and water for her,” Vanish said. 

The experience of living through the hurricane encouraged Vanish to cherish things he didn’t before. 

“This experience really makes you appreciate your family and friends. The disaster brings out the best in some people, but the worst in others. I am grateful for having a roof over my head and to have food in my stomach,” Vanish said. 

During the storm Vanish went six days without electricity. Without electricity, he was not able to run water for bathing, cool his home, keep perishable items in his fridge or charge devices such as his phone. 

You don’t truly realize how much you actually miss electricity until you don’t have it for several days”

— Darrell Vanish

“You don’t truly realize how much you actually miss electricity until you don’t have it for several days,” Vanish said. “I am grateful for Ashley and her husband for coming way down from South Carolina to help. I will certainly be better prepared for another one [hurricane] just in case.”