Veteran Pays Off 114 Outstanding Utility Bills for Struggling Neighbors Ahead of Christmas

December 22, 2020 Updated: December 23, 2020

For the second holiday season in a row, a Vietnam veteran of Gulf Breeze, Florida, has extended a huge gesture of kindness to his community by paying off $7,600 worth of past due utility bills to ease the burden for local families ahead of Christmas.

Mike Esmond is a 74-year-old great-grandfather who runs Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas. His generosity ignited with one of the incidents from his past, as he himself once had his gas shut off while struggling financially in 1983, along with raising three young daughters. At that time, the loss of power was quite devastating.

“I decided not to pay the gas bill [once] because this is Florida, it doesn’t get cold,” Esmond told CBS News. “Boy, was I wrong about that … [it] turned out to be the coldest winter that Pensacola had ever experienced.”

Over three decades later, and with the means to help others, Esmond decided to ensure that none of his neighbors suffered the same brutal Christmas.

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Mike Esmond holding the Christmas card from 2019 that the city sent out. (Courtesy of Gulf Breeze News)

It all began last year when Esmond received the utility bill and he noticed that the cutoff date was Dec. 26, 2019. He then went to the city and asked how many people were at risk of having their gas or water cut off before Christmas. After learning the numbers, he helped 36 families by paying off $4,600 worth of utility arrears.

“I wanted to do something that I felt would really help people at Christmas time who are trying to decide between paying bills and maybe having something cut off, or buying presents for their family,” Esmond said in an interview with Pensacola News Journal in 2019.

Meanwhile, this year, in light of the damage due to Hurricane Sally and the devastating impact of the pandemic with many people losing their jobs, Esmond felt that he needed to go out there and help people in need more than ever.

Joanne Oliver, the city’s utility-billing supervisor, gave Esmond the list of customers at risk of having their utilities cut, and he thus paid $7,600 without hesitation, giving the gift of a warm holiday season to 114 families in the process.

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A card that was sent out by the utility authority in Gulf Breeze to all the families that Mike Esmond paid their bills for. (Courtesy of Mike Esmond)

By helping three times more households than last year, Esmond said he was able to support more people as some had bills due of $100 or lesser than that.

“That really impacted me, that people can’t even afford to pay a $100 bill on their utilities and things are so bad,” Esmond told CNN. “That’s why I was able to pay for 114 families.

“We’ve had a good year,” he admitted, “and that’s why I want to share what I have with the people who need it.”

Oliver commended Esmond’s generosity. “Even though our country and our city is currently going through probably the most difficult year of some of our lifetimes, there are still people out there who are generous and kind and really do want to help others,” she said.

Christmas cards were sent to reveal the good news to all recipient families. “It is our honor and privilege to inform you that your past due utility bill has been paid by Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas,” read the card. “You can rest easier this holiday season knowing you have one less bill to pay.”

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A card that was sent out by the utility authority in Gulf Breeze to all the families that Mike Esmond paid their bills for. (Courtesy of Mike Esmond)

While Esmond is grateful to have received offers of cash contributions from people as far away as California and Chicago, the veteran advocates paying it forward. “I said, ‘No, take the money, go do what I did. Start this in your own communities,’” Esmond explained to CBS.

“It’s something I can see that we could really pass on and make Christmases better for people in the future,” he reflected.

Esmond refers to himself as “a guy who goes out and digs in the dirt and builds swimming pools.” His motive is simply to make life a little less stressful for his community.

Hearing about the impact of his holiday gesture is a reward enough. “I’m not a guy who’s ever really been involved in anything like this where I made people happy,” he reflected. “It’s just unbelievable.”

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