Lives saved and celebrated during Hurricane Irma at Dunedin special needs shelter

Image 1 of 6

A special needs shelter in Dunedin had a little bit of everything during Hurricane Irma. A close call with their generator, new life coming into the world, and a centennial birthday were among the moments that kept volunteers on their toes.

As Hurricane Irma roared outside, inside Dunedin Highland Middle School there was a big celebration for one special evacuee. Bernice was turning 100 years old in the middle of the storm, but it took a lot of heroes to make the party happen.

With only 17 days at the school under his belt, Principal Michael Vasallo was in charge. 

"It was overwhelming but at the same time this is what we're here to do," said Vasallo.

And he did just that. Vasallo and his team took care of a thousand evacuees and their pets. They sheltered them, fed them, and entertained them.

But when Principal Vasallo heard one evacuee was having a very special birthday, he thought, "Is there any way we could bake a cake?"

The cafeteria staff, including Ms. Kim from Sutherland Elementary School, had an idea.

"We have cookies in the freezer. Why don't we make a heart-shaped cookie cake?" Ms. Kim asked.

Jill Bevilacqua from Dunedin High School said they wrapped up the cookie cake before bed, but some cookie monsters broke into it over night. 

"We all went to bed. The cookie cake was safe and wrapped," said Bevilacqua. "They ate part of the cake we were like, 'Oh no!'" 

Not to be deterred, the team made another cookie cake and got back to business. Principal Vasallo said this time they delivered it to the birthday girl right out of the oven.

They sang 'Happy Birthday' and the smile on Bernice's face was the reward.

The moral here was said best by Principal Vasallo: "Superheros don't wear capes. People literally risked their lives to save the people that were here at the shelter."

Elsewhere, In the pet shelter, a dog gave birth to a litter of puppies. Some evacuees adopted some of the puppies and appropriately named them "Irma" and "Hurricane."