Mark Papaleo remembers waking up on June 12 to the sound of his phone ringing.
“It was about 8 a.m.; I took the call, and that’s when I found out what had happened,” he recalls.
His sister, Barbara Poma, is the owner of Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
“I checked my phone and saw that Barbara had called at 2:30 in the morning. My wife’s phone and mine were soon ringing off the hook.”
mass shooting in U.S. history, left 49 people dead and dozens of others wounded.
It also forever altered the lives of the nightclub’s employees. Out of work and facing an uncertain future, many of the club’s employees have turned to the kindness of others – people willing to lend a hand.
Papaleo, who owns Pizza Time Caffe in Parkland, organized a fundraiser on June 29 for his sister’s employees. Forty-nine percent of all sales will benefit the employees. Among those in attendance were Margate Commissioner Lesa Peerman and her wife, Jan Hadden.
“They are like family and they need help,” Papaleo said of the club’s employees. “We planned this fundraiser as a small, local event but the response from the community was truly amazing.”
Papaleo said the nightclub opened in 2004 in memory of their brother, John, who died from AIDS in 1991.
“She named it ‘Pulse’ to keep his pulse alive,” he said.
“It’s hard for them to go and find another job,” said Mark’s wife, Denise. “We want to help them in any way possible … [But] this is not just about raising money for the employees. It is important to support the LGBT community.”
Also at the fundraiser was Jillian Gross, one of Poma’s closest friends.
“It is great to see everyone coming together for Barbara and her employees,” she said. “I saw some of our old friends that I hadn’t seen in 20 years. I know she wants to rebuild, and I will be there to support her.”
Papaleo also said he is not willing to join those who blame Islam for the shooting at the nightclub. “This was a lone wolf – a crazy person who had some serious issues and had access to a gun. This has nothing to do with any religion.”