Army medic Luis Ocampo returned from the front lines of Hurricane Florence in September to find his house looted, and some of his family’s most cherished possessions stolen. Now, after generous well-wishers donated money to replace his losses, Ocampo is giving away most of the money that was raised for him.
“We got more than we expected, and felt that it was our responsibility to show someone that same kindness that so many showed us,” Ocampo, 24, tells PEOPLE.
Ocampo left his home in Charlotte last month when his unit from the North Carolina National Guard was called to help with hurricane relief. Ocampo spent days in New Bern, a riverfront city ravaged by the storm.
With Ocampo gone, his girlfriend Kailey Finch and their infant son also left home.
“I went to Luis’ parents, because I felt safer there,” says Finch, 20. She left the family dog inside the house.
On September 21, Ocampo returned home to find the back door open, and their dog running loose in the yard.
“Someone came in through our son’s bedroom window,” Finch says. “They busted the locks with a shovel, and propped open the window. The house was trashed.”
Clothes and other belongings were flung around the house. Whoever looted the house stole mostly electronics, including a laptop that Ocampo used for school work, and game systems. Other items stolen include a gun, jewelry, two jars full of change, and a box of coins Ocampo’s grandmother had collected from around the world.
The looters even took food from the refrigerator.
The young couple posted about the break-in on Facebook, asking if anyone had information. A friend of the couple, Mary Elise Capron, saw the post and started a fundraiser.
“I have worked closely with Ocampo in the National Guard and he is an amazing soldier and person,” Capron wrote on the GoFundMe page set up for Finch and Ocampo. “I am honored to know him and cannot believe something so terrible could happen to someone so dedicated to the service, his family and school.”
In just 11 days, the fundraiser reached nearly $15,000 — surpassing Capron’s $5,000 goal. Ocampo and Finch said they were astonished to receive so much.
“It was overwhelming,” Finch tells PEOPLE. “It was way more than we needed.”
So, the couple asked Capron to shut down donations, with Finch noting that she and Ocampo didn’t “want to abuse people’s generosity.”
Still, benefactors wanted to keep giving. So Ocampo and Finch decided to pay the generosity forward, and began redirecting the additional donations.
“Other people really need help that they can’t get,” Finch says.
Ocampo and Finch are sending money to the Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund. The couple is also giving some of the money to a soldier who began living in a hotel after a tree fell on his house during the hurricane.
“A big part of wanting to give the donations comes from seeing how generous people have been, and I wanted to pay that back to someone else who needed help,” Ocampo says. Finch adds: “We’re very happy none of us are hurt. We are so, so grateful.”