It seemed as though Chris and Erin Mandell had it all.  The New York transplants arrived in sunny Florida just a few years ago with their two little boys, Rowan, now age seven, and Asher, five, and worked to build their thriving antique-book dealing business, ElevenEleven Books–named for the November 11th date the couple first met–from their home in South Venice.  

When threats of Hurricane Ian came, the couple decided to be safe and evacuate their rental home because it did not have hurricane-proof windows. They stayed with loved ones in West Palm Beach for three days. Knowing that their friend’s home in North Port was on higher ground than theirs, they moved their books there, thinking it would be safer. That turned out to be a bad decision. The North Port home was completely flooded and everything in it, including over 350 books (worth about $750,000.00) was gone. 

Sadly, the couple lost priceless early business ledgers that were important historical items. A few were New Bedford, MA whaling ledgers, another archive was from the founding fathers of Los Angeles in the late 1800s, and even more were colonial American from the 1770s to the 1780s.  Bookwise, they lost numerous 16th-century books, many bound in early animal skin (vellum).  Also destroyed was a signed royal patent vellum manuscript from Queen Victoria with her large royal seal. 

“Once we came back to town, everything changed,” says Chris. “We had worked hard to protect every book by putting them in plastic bins, wrapping them in plastic, and taking all the precautions to keep any bit of water out. We brought them into the strongest room that we could find. It had no windows but somehow, water found a way in and decimated about 80% of what we had . . antique books that are not replaceable. And that put a big stop sign in front of everything we do.” With little help from insurance companies and no break in their rent from their landlord, Erin and Chris were feeling desperate. Luckily, help from their immediate community was soon to come.

Rowan and Asher are students at NewGate Montessori School in Sarasota. When head of school Tanya Ryskind and her team heard about the Mandell’s situation, they immediately stepped up to help. First, they worked with the family to make sure Rowan and Asher were able to stay in school for the remainder of the year. Next, parents and staff members contributed to a GoFundMe page to raise enough money to keep the family afloat with food and expenses. 

“NewGate parents reached out and offered help to us in all forms,” shares Erin. “Staff members came to the house and helped us with groceries, childcare, and so much more. It was so heartwarming to see.”

Originally expecting to receive about $2,500 from the GoFundMe efforts, the Mandells were floored to see that their caring community at NewGate had raised almost $9,000.00, helping the family make ends meet and get them through the most difficult of times. With plans to build back their business, the Mandells are optimistic about the future and eternally grateful to their NewGate family.