Marc Bell says it takes a village. He apparently believes it, because when the SOS Children's Village Florida needed a home during Hurricane Irma, he let the whole gang move into his Boca Raton mansion.
Bell said the CEO of the foster children's program called Monday to say the power was out at the home and that 70 kids and more than a dozen adult caretakers had been kicked out of their shelter.
"I said 'Bring them to my house until we get it sorted out,'" Bell said. Thirty minutes later the home of Marc and Jennifer Bell was under siege.
"They hadn't showered in five days, no laundry in five days, they were starving," Marc Bell said with a laugh. "Never seen so many kids so excited by pizza pie in my life. Twenty of them disappeared in seconds."
Bell, a former owner of Penthouse magazine who sits on the Children's Village board, said he expected they would need to keep the kids busy for a couple hours until the power returned to the village home.
A couple hours turned into a couple days.
"We celebrated three birthdays, two doctor visits and a tooth fairy," Bell said. "It takes a village."
The kids, ages 2 to 17, all had sleeping bags, so they slept two nights sprawled out in "whatever room they picked," Bell said. Groups of friends were able to stay together, which helped keep everyone comfortable in the new surroundings.
The kids were unrelentingly polite, Bell said, always saying "please" and "thank you."
Bell estimated the couple served at least 800 meals. More than 100 friends and relatives helped out, many working 12 hour shifts. The couple brought in singers, clowns and even athletes to entertain the kids, and teachers came to provide arts and crafts.
The couple even provided manicures for the girls, and a masseuse donated time.
"People don't help each other anymore," Bell said. "But this was an amazing show, how the community came together to help these kids. We asked and people came."
Bell said ice cream trucks the couple brought in had just left Wednesday night when he received word that power had returned to the village home.
"The kids didn't want to go," he said.
When they left, Bell said he and his wife hugged them goodbye at the door, then turned around expecting to see chaos in the their wake. That didn't happen. The youths were neater and cleaner than regular house guests, he said.
"We really enjoyed having them," Bell said. "And for them, what was supposed to be a couple hours turned out to be almost 72 hours of enjoying being a kid."