Florida Army veteran pays off past-due utility bills for families ahead of Christmas

Mike Esmond in Pensacola, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

A man who was rewarded by the Planters peanut company for being a good Samaritan is continuing to help others in his Florida Panhandle city.

Over the previous two Christmas seasons, Mike Esmond donated about $12,000 to pay off utility bills for people in Gulf Breeze who needed some extra help. Then, in March, Planters sent Esmond a check for $104,000 for his good works as part of the company’s "A Nut Above" campaign.

Since then, Esmond has continued helping with past-due utility bills, paying off balances for 677 accounts.

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"In other words, I paid everybody’s past-due account for a while, about March to August, like six months straight," Esmond told the Pensacola News Journal. "Nobody that had their utilities, Gulf Breeze utilities, had anything disconnected."

Last week, Esmond donated funds to pay off 29 accounts, putting his total donations at about $85,000 this year and more than $96,000 over the past three years.

He said he’s continuing his effort in hopes of inspiring others.

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Esmond said it’s been touching to hear how the donations have helped older Gulf Breeze residents who may need additional assistance.

"I’ve had some older, retired people call me crying on the phone, because I paid their bills, because they live on Social Security, and they don’t know what’s going on," Esmond told the newspaper. "So it’s not only families. There’s older single people that you know, are in this predicament also."

Esmond runs Gulf Breeze Pools and Spas, which he started in 2010. The U.S. Army veteran said he was inspired to help with utility bills because of his own experience in the 1980s, when he couldn’t afford to pay his gas bill in the winter.

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"I was raising three daughters and my wife and I would run around at night with this little plug-in electric heater in the rooms trying to give them a little bit of heat," Esmond said.

And for that reason, Esmond said he’ll likely continue the Christmas donations as long as he can afford to.