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Florida businessman pays overdue power bills for 36 families

Michael Esmond says he was surprised when the city sent out cards to the recipients of his generosity Image copyright BBC News
Image caption Michael Esmond says he was surprised when the city sent out cards to the recipients of his generosity

A pool installation company owner in Florida has paid off the bills of 36 families who were in danger of losing power during the holiday season.

After receiving his own utility bill, Michael Esmond got the idea to "take a little bit of stress out" of the season for his neighbours.

He contacted the city of Gulf Breeze, where he lives, to ask about helping out everyone whose payment was overdue.

He says he was motivated by his own unheated holiday season years ago.

While paying his gas and water bill earlier this month, Mr Esmond, 73, said that he noticed that it read that the due date was 26 December and that supplies may be cut if not paid by then.

"This actually happened to me back in the 80s," he told BBC News, saying that he was having trouble juggling the costs of bills and Christmas gifts back then.

"We actually had the gas shut off the whole entire winter," he said, adding that it happened to be one of the coldest ever recorded winters in Pensacola.

Joanne Oliver, Gulf Breeze's utility billing supervisor, told WEAR-TV that she cried when he first approached her with the idea.

"For someone like him, a veteran to come in and do some grand gesture. It was heartfelt for me," she said.

In total, Mr Esmond paid $4,600 (£3,500) to help 36 families in his community of 6,000 residents.

Image caption His charity was featured on the front page of his local newspaper

But what he didn't know until later was that the city sent out holiday cards to the recipients of his generosity saying: "It is our honour and privilege to inform you that your past due utility bill has been paid by Gulf Breeze pools & Spas.

"You can rest easier this holiday season knowing you have one less bill to pay."

"I think I really struck a nerve with a lot of people. People don't realise that there are people right now that don't have heat and electricity and everything in their house and their going to go through Christmas without that."

"My phone hasn't stopped ringing with text messages and emails for days now," he says, with many people promising him they will "pay it forward" and do charitable acts that he helped to inspire.

"It's just mind boggling to me," he added.

Mr Esmond says he's already thinking of what he can do next year, but says it definitely will not be the same act of kindness.

"People say 'are you going to do this again next year', and my reply to them is, if people knew I was going to do this nobody would pay their bill.

"They'd all wait for me to pay it," he chuckled. "I'll have to think up something."

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