Local family’s effort to help Ocracoke yields pleasant surprise

By on September 4, 2017

Tony and Linda Lombardi (left), students, assistant principal Linda Cole, and fifth grade teacher Jeanie Ownes. (Lombardis photo)

Last month, we traveled to Ocracoke to meet with Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach of The Ocracoke Observer to learn more about each other’s publications and discuss our partnerships on content.

On the next ferry behind us, we were surprised to learn that Tony and Linda Lombardi were on their way over with donations destined for Ocracoke School.

We know the Lombardis as regulars on The Other Side of Fishing with Capt. Marty on Beach 104 and 94.5 WCMS and their participation with fishing tournaments, and we all wound up at Ocracoke’s community radio station, WOVV-FM, for interviews.

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We asked the Lombardis about their donations and how they came about. With a lot of modesty on their part and prodding on ours, they eventually told us their story.

It is not an unusual story for the Outer Banks, where the generosity of the community from Corova to Ocracoke is well known.

But the stories need to be told if only to remind us in these tempestuous times, there is far more to celebrate than other news outlets want us to believe.


Every cloud has a silver lining and the same goes for some tragedies.

The islands of Hatteras and Ocracoke experienced such a tragedy on July 29, 2017.

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On this day the main power feed to both islands was partially severed during the Bonner Bridge replacement project.

At that moment the world went black for those communities with no idea to the extent of the problem or when the power would be restored.

But unknown to them a silver lining was just over the horizon.

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The small communities of Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands depend on summer visitors to help support them throughout the year. Now with the power out and a mandatory evacuation order in effect, they were starting to see their financial lifeline head north off the islands.

Confusion, then frustration would begin to set in as they looked into an uncertain future.

With all the focus on an interrupted tourist season, and an unknown timeframe for the restoration of power, another concern was lurking in the background — the upcoming start of school.

Families and school administrators saw that the school year was fast approaching and the power outage left them with limited options to prepare the children for the fall semester.

Jeanie Owens, a fourth-grade teacher at the Ocracoke School, had an idea.

She used social media to send out an urgent request pointing out that many of the local families and school-age children needed their help. To get that message out quickly, Owens posted her request on Facebook.

Not surprisingly, the request spread like wildfire throughout eastern North Carolina.

The Lombardis learned about Ocracoke’s school situation from two close friends, Kathy Sparrow and Audra Meads Shackelford.

Nine businesses donated $3000 of school supplies. (Tony & Linda Lombardi)

About the same time the Lombardis saw the Facebook post, they were beginning to clear out their home office of many new and unused office supplies that were no longer needed.

The problem seemed immense, but the couple decided they could do something to make at least a small difference. So they developed a plan. It needed to include soliciting friends and businesses to contribute school supplies, then deliver them before the opening of the school year.

The first phase of the plan was to use social media in the same way Owens did.

The Lombardis sent out a Facebook post asking friends and family to consider donating anything they could afford for these unlucky children. No donation was too small.

Kent and Terri Hathaway have been friends with the Lombardis for five years, and Terri saw Tony’s Facebook re-post from Audra Shackleford and thought packing a backpack or two or three for Ocracoke students was a worthwhile cause.

So the Hathaways filled up several large grocery bags with school supplies and dropped them at the Lombardi’s house for their delivery trip to the island. Terri and Kent believe in giving back to their community.  Terri has served on the Outer Banks Hotline Board of Directors since 2010, is a supervisor for the Dare County Soil and Water Conservation District and is a contributing member of the Currituck-Dare Women’s Fund

Then things began to really take off.

The next part of the plan was to contact their extensive list of local business contacts. The idea was to approach their colleagues in person and explain the crisis, asking the businesses to donate directly to the school or bring their donations to the Lombardis, who would deliver the donations themselves.

Among the first stops were the four large department stores in Kitty Hawk.

A small sampling of the good donated.

The first two, Home Depot and K-Mart, each provided gift cards for future purchases.

The school found this to be a great idea because after the school year starts, additional supplies are always needed.

The second group of stores were Dollar Tree and Walmart.

The Walmart in Kitty Hawk donated five back packs full of various school supplies and the Dollar Tree provided several bags of school supplies.

The Outer Banks Ace Hardware stores were also extremely generous with several bags of supplies.

It seemed there was no end to the generosity of our community.

The Lombardis then visited several Kitty Hawk grocery stores. The Food Lion Kitty Hawk and Harris Teeter Kitty Hawk each donated gift certificates for future purchases.

The final stops included several local banks, with TowneBank providing a $300 donation.

But the most amazing contributions came from the local First National Bank branches, which decided to provide a donation but in a very creative way.

The various First National locations would hold an all-branch bake sale. Their idea was to have each bank employee bake cookies, cakes or a dessert during the week and bring them in to be sold in the lobby. The sale would was held on the last Friday in August, which is the busiest day of the week. All proceeds from the sale would be assembled in check form and hand-delivered directly to the school.

Approximately $779 was collected from the bake sales.

Just when the Lombardis thought they had reached the end of the donations, the Hathaways brought several large bags of supplies and their friend Capt. Curtis Colgate provided an extremely generous check to finalize the contributions.

Colgate is president of an investment and real estate holding firm in Virginia and owner of Instigator Sportfishing Charters, which operates the 57-foot Instigator charter fishing vessel that spends half of the year docked at Pirates Cove.

Coming from a small Southside Virginia town, Colgate relates to how events such as the power outage affect smaller communities and he was only too happy to help the Lombardi’s cause.

The Lombardis made their first trip to the school to drop off the first set of supplies. Owens met them at the school and was extremely happy that someone so far away would take the time to help someone that they never knew.

What started as a simple donation of personal unused new office supplies turned into a major undertaking totaling over $3,000 in cash and other goods.

While the Lombardis were confident their small effort to assist the families would make a difference, what they never knew was just how much their friends and business contacts would raise in donations.

As Tony Lombardi summed it up, “We were blown away.”


Tony and Linda are married, have two sons and three grandchildren, and have lived in Southern Shores since 1999.

Tony retired after a 45-year career as a paramedic and safety professional. He is a builder and contractor in both Maryland and North Carolina. Tony is also an avid gardener, recreational and commercial fisherman and he is a USCG master captain.

Linda is a retired surgical nurse with 44 years of service and likes to garden, fish and make jewelry.

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