“People are living in their homes here with no roofs. People have no income, no money, no work.”
You may no longer be seeing much about the Virgin Islands in the headlines. But a month after Hurricane Irma tore through St. Thomas, followed shortly by Hurricane Maria devastating St. Croix, Jeff Neevel, pastor of St. Thomas Reformed Church, reports that there’s still tremendous need on the islands. Roads are still impassable. Fuel is in short supply. A few grocery stores are open, but lines are long and shelves not totally full.
Workers with My Brother’s Workshop stand on a roof that has blown off a home in St. Thomas.
St. Thomas Reformed Church is giving away food and supplies to hundreds of families each week. It’s also partnering with My Brother’s Workshop, a local not-for-profit that’s serving more than 1,000 meals a day as well as sending work teams out around the island. “We have four crews with trucks, generators, and chainsaws,” Neevel says. “We give them a list of people and help board up windows, put tarps on roofs, and do triage on people’s houses.”
Tom Calhoun, Consistory Vice President at St. Croix Reformed Church, reports that there is no power on the island and it is not likely to be restored for up to a year. Many roads are still impassable and the airport is still closed. He anticipates that it will take at least a year to restore St. Croix to functionality. The consistory is planning to use some of their relief funding to build a bathroom and sleeping area in their education building to house volunteers who come to help rebuild.
The $52,000 that the Regional Synod of New York raised for St. Thomas in September is going directly to this work. The money that we are raising for St. Croix this month will fund similar efforts on that island. Our goal is $50k in October and so far we have raised $12,500.
While Neevel is grateful for the packages of donated supplies that have been mailed to St. Thomas, money is most helpful. It allows them to buy and then give away the things people need most (at the moment, diapers, toilet paper, and feminine-hygiene products). It also boosts the struggling economy. “The dollar goes a lot farther because we can support venders here,” he says. “We want to buy locally,” which creates work and much-needed jobs.
We continue to pray for our siblings in St. Thomas and St. Croix as they rebuild, fighting exhaustion as well as mosquitoes. (Neevel: “I still have not heard a convincing argument why God created mosquitoes.”) We also lift up the many volunteers who are helping with the relief effort, under trying conditions and often with little sleep.
To our prayers, we add our tangible gifts, remembering Jesus’s admonition to give food to the hungry, offer drink to the thirsty, and care for those in need. To Jesus’s call, our right response is to help put tarps on roofs and plywood on windows and bags of groceries in the hands of those with empty pantries. This is how we want to live-and this is how we’re called to love.
p.s. Remember that gifts can be sent to the Regional Synod office at 42 N Broadway, Tarrytown, NY 10591 100% of your gift will go directly to the churches to support their relief efforts. To volunteer to travel to the islands to help with the work of relief, please contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org.