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Collier County diner supports neighbors, first responders during fires

The owners of a diner who are on the brink of evacuation themselves are helping neighbors who are dealing with loss, and firefighters who are trying to save their homes and property from becoming charred.

Alda’s Diner has only been around eight months but is cementing itself as a community hub, as it supports neighbors who have been forced to evacuate their homes in Collier County due to the fires Thursday.

Owner Arjan Vasha credits his customers with keeping his business alive during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For two months, the customers,” Vasha said. “And they helped us; they support us.”

Now, it’s his turn to give back. About seven miles from his business, fires swept through Collier County, burning thousands of acres and forced homeowners to evacuate.

Vasha says he live near the evacuation zone.

“I live by the Palmetto High School,” Vasha said. “And we saw them last night and today. I feel bad. We can help as much as we can.”

Vasha is helping the community by giving away free breakfast to evacuees.

“I have a lot of customers that live over there, and they come in here two to three times a week, and I feel bad,” head chef Gilbert Castillo said.

Castillo also prepared free meals for first responders. Real estate agents Angela Pierce and Jo-El Dejesus with MVP realty delivered the meals to firefighters.

Dejesus has needed to evacuate in the past.

“It’s emotional because you don’t know what you’re going to grab, and you gotta get out,” Dejesus. “We’ve sold home and listed homes within these areas too. So, to see them being devastated with these fires coming through and destroying structures and having to be evacuated, it’s just really heartbreaking.”

Alda’s Diner served community members and first responders from 7 a.m. to noon Thursday.

Reporter:Brea Hollingsworth
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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