When Marc and Jennifer Bell received a call that 70 foster children had nowhere to go following Hurricane Irma, the Florida couple opened their door — and their hearts.
What unfolded over the next three days was a sleepover of epic proportions, featuring ice cream trucks, games, manicures and lots of chicken fingers.
"It was a beautiful experience for them," Marc Bell said. "But it was a beautiful experience for us as well."
The Bells, who live in Boca Raton, shared their story with Inside Edition at DGA New York Theater Thursday night as they co-chaired an event benefiting foster children in South Florida. The couple helped host a screening of a short film, Momma, which touches upon issues affecting children like those they took in.
It all started with a phone call from SOS Children’s Villages Florida following the hurricane in early September.
"The shelter lost power," Marc recalled. "They had no place to go and they needed help and we said, 'Why don’t you come over? And we’ll figure it out.'"
Nearly 100 people — including 70 children and their chaperones — turned up. The couple initially thought the group would be there for a few hours, but they ending up staying for three days. Still, there was more than enough to keep them busy.
"We had Bobby the Balloon Guy, we had Ziggy the Clown, we had ice cream trucks, we had sports games on the fields for them. We kept them busy," Marc said. "But they also needed showers. They needed to have their laundry done. They hadn’t showered in five days, they hadn’t had clean clothes in five days. So we took care of them."
The couple put up a message on Facebook asking for volunteers and, across the three days, 150 turned up to help them feed, clean and entertain the children.
"These were kids that were from 2 to 17, so we had a lot of different age groups," Jennifer said. "All my friends came over. We were doing jewelry. We got the little girls manicures."
There was also a constant need for more food, she laughed, and they went through a lot of chicken fingers and pizza.
"We first took a quick survey and asked, 'What do you want to eat?' and they all screamed out, 'Pizza!' Two hours later, 20 pizza pies showed up," Marc said.
Friends who play sports also came over to entertain the group, and the couple even threw birthday parties for some of the children.
"They were the best house guests that we’ve ever had. They were so respectful," Jennifer said. "They were just thankful that people were looking out for them."
Her husband added, "The one thing they all really wanted was just love. They just wanted someone to talk to, someone to care for them. And we treated them like they were our own."
While the couple's act of kindness has earned them admiration, they said they don't feel comfortable being called heroes.
"The people who are with these kids every day" are the heroes, Jennifer said. "And even the kids are the heroes."
"At the end of the day, these kids are our future," Marc added. "They may have had a bad break in life, but the reality is they are the future doctors, lawyers, bankers, presidents — you never know. They need to have the same opportunity that we’re blessed and lucky enough to have. We want them to have that opportunity."
The couple supports SOS Children's Village, the foster care community where the children came from. One hundred percent of the children over the past decade have graduated high school and have gone on to college or vocational training, Marc told Inside Edition.
It's a success story that has personal meaning for CBS senior executive Scott Koondel, who spearheaded Thursday night's event raising money for SOS Children's Village along with his wife, Staci.
Koondel, now himself a father of four, grew up in foster homes.
"A lot of people do great things — they donate a lot of money — for the cause, but what Marc did was well beyond what a lot of people would do by taking 70 kids in," he said.
He's now hoping that other people see Momma, a short film written and directed by Nacho Arenas, to understand issues affecting children.
"It took me over 30 years to discuss what my experiences were in foster care, and they weren’t pleasant, but I’m hoping that what I talk about will inspire people to understand what foster kids go through and to donate their time and resources to make their lives better," he said.
To support SOS Children's Village Florida, a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of foster children in south Florida, visit their website here.