GULF BREEZE, Fla. – When Michael Esmond got his utility bills – due December 26 – his mind went straight to the 1980s, when he had trouble making ends meet.
So the Florida business owner found out who in his Gulf Breeze community was at risk of having their utilities disconnected. Then, he paid 36 families' bills ahead of Christmas.
Esmond, who owns Gulf Breeze Pools & Spa near Pensacola, told CNN he spent $4,600 to give his neighbors "a happier Christmas and take a little bit of stress out."
"I actually lived that back in the 1980s," he said. "I experienced the same thing, having trouble paying bills. My gas was shut off, and we had no heating for the whole winter."
"It was one of the coldest winters in Florida; temperature got down to the single digits," Esmond continued. "That was definitely in my mind when I received the bill this year."
Esmond has close ties with his community of 6,000 people and wanted to give back, he said.
"I got a great feedback on my Facebook page and business phone. People were texting me and calling me to thank me for what I had done," he said.
"It made me cry. It made me cry," Joanne Oliver, Gulf Breeze's utility billing supervisor, told CNN affiliate WEAR . "For someone like him, a veteran to come in and do some grand gesture. It was heartfelt for me."
To their relief, the families received from the city holiday cards -- not warnings. They read:
"It is our honor and privilege to inform you that your past due utility bill has been paid by Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas. You can rest easier this holiday season knowing you have one less bill to pay. On behalf of Gulf Breeze Pools & Spas we here at the City of Gulf Breeze would like to wish you and your family a happy holiday season."