• Veteran helps Puerto Rico evacuees through nonprofit

    By: Sarahbeth Ackerman

    Updated:

    ORLANDO, Fla. - A nonprofit organization seeks to recruit volunteers to help families who left Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean island.

    The Mission Continues works with veteran volunteers who are transitioning back to civilian life.

    Veteran Bobby Withers said he felt moved to serve an organization after the Pulse Orlando massacre.

    "I went out and donated blood, and my O-negative was really crucial," he said.

    Read: Storm evacuees worry as FEMA housing assistance expires

    Years earlier, Withers spent much of his time serving and giving back. He enlisted in the military on Sept. 11, 2001, assisted in recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina and completed two tours of duty in Afghanistan before being wounded.

    "I went up against a handful of suicide bombers in American uniforms and ended up stepping directly on an old Russian land mine in the process," Withers said.

    But he called it a "happy accident," because troops called the mission and saved his life in the process, allowing him to focus on his personal mission.

    "(To) alleviate suffering wherever I can find it," he said.

    Watching the community come together after the Pulse shooting and hurricanes Irma and Maria inspired him to volunteer with the nonprofit.

    Read: Puerto Rico: Needs go unmet more than 6 months after Hurricane Maria

    After Hurricane Maria, Withers asked the volunteers for help.

    "I said, 'Orlando has a really strong Puerto Rican community, and it's going to grow exponentially,'" he said. "'We are going to see evacuees in the thousands.'"

    So Withers and other volunteers got to work.

    The organization created mobile food pantry units and placed them in schools with a high number of Puerto Rican evacuees.

    At the end of the month, Withers will be honored for his efforts at a gala in Orlando.

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