Vincentians in US remain ‘resolute’ in relief efforts for volcano-ravaged homeland

SVG Relief Committee, USA. Inc. volunteers unload relief supplies at Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center.
Photo by Nelson A. King

The Brooklyn-based SVG Relief Committee, USA., Inc. says Vincentian nationals in the United States remain “resolute” in their efforts to provide much-needed relief aid to their volcano-ravaged homeland.

Verna Arthur, chairperson of the Committee, told Caribbean Life on Wednesday that her compatriots are leaving no stones unturned in assisting in the relief efforts.

“Another container was packed in preparation for shipment to St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” she said. “Again, our volunteers did not disappoint.

“That continued enthusiasm and team spirit to help our brothers and sisters in SVG (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), during these trying times, is resolute,” she adding, stating that “there are enough items at Friends of Crown Heights (Educational Center in Brooklyn) to pack another container.

“However, we are crossing our fingers and toes on receiving the military plane,” continued Arthur, alluding to a recent request by New York Democratic Congressional Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to secure aircraft to airlift disaster relief supplies procured from private citizens from New York City (NYC) to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“As members of the NYC congressional delegation, we write regarding disaster relief for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where tens of thousands of people are in humanitarian need due to multiple eruptions of the La Soufrière volcano,” wrote Hakeem Jeffries and Gregory Meeks in their joint letter to Cuomo.

Jeffries represents New York’s 8th Congressional District, which includes parts of Brooklyn and Queens, and Meeks represents the 5th Congressional District in Queens.

Jefferies and Meeks told the governor that Caribbean leaders in Brooklyn and Queens, “which are home to likely the largest Vincentian Diaspora community in the US, have collected relief supplies” to provide to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

They said that, for example, the Brooklyn-based SVG Relief Committee, USA., Inc. has reported that they have collected enough bottled water to fill two 20-feet shipping containers, 90 commercial shipping bins, 120 barrels and two 20-feet containers of essential relief items.

Jeffries and Meeks said shipping these materials by sea would take roughly three weeks or longer.

SVG Relief Committee, Inc., volunteers and New York Consul General Howie Prince flank Jermaine Cameron (center), principal of Eagle Academy in Staten Island, who presented on Saturday a US$1,000.00 check for St. Vincent and the Grenadines volcano relief aid.  Photo by Nelson A. King

“Alternatively, sending an aircraft with supplies would deliver relief much sooner during this rapidly unfolding crisis,” they told Gov. Cuomo. “We, therefore, respectfully request your assistance in securing an available aircraft to airlift disaster relief supplies procured from private citizens from New York City to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“These citizens would greatly appreciate help with the delivery,” Jeffries and Meeks added. “We are prepared to work with you to coordinate efforts for an aircraft, and we welcome your partnership.”

Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, told relief volunteers at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center in Brooklyn, the main staging area in New York for relief supplies to be dispatched to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that she was working with her congressional colleagues to provide much-needed aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

In addition to the standard shipping arrangements by sea, Vaughan Toney, the Vincentian-born president and chief executive officer of the Friends of Crown Heights Education Center, and a member of the SVG Relief Committee, USA, Inc. told a recent handing-over ceremony, of a container of relief supplies by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, that the Committee was “making every effort to secure a military transport aircraft to expedite the delivery of these supplies to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”

New York City Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo – who represents the 35th Council District, which includes the communities of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn – also disclosed, at the same ceremony, that she and the City Council were working with Congresswoman Clarke, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, and Jeffries “to get (military) transport to get supplies there (to St. Vincent and the Grenadines).”

Arthur said, if the military aircraft does not materialize, “we will revert to option B (the container).”

She also disclosed that the Committee is “placing a pause” on the large relief drive, which is conducted at Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center, until further notice.

“Nevertheless, items are still being collected in preparation of the next move,” Arthur said. “We are now focusing on items, which will help facilitate the clean-up effort, e.g. power wash, scrubbing brooms, shovels, etc.

“Our transportation team has several pick-ups scheduled for the rest of this week from places as far as Scarsdale and Hudson Valley (in Upstate New York), she added.

“The monetary drive is still on-going, and I urge persons to give generously in this regard,” continued Arthur, disclosing that the Committee received a $10,000.00 check, to aid in the relief efforts, from Pastor Louis Straker, Jr., son of former St. Vincent and the Grenadines Deputy Prime Minister Sir Louis Straker. Pastor Straker heads the Reflections Church on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn.

“I was stunned,” Arthur said. “Ten thousand thanks are not enough for such a hefty donation. A special thanks to the members of Reflections Church.”

The Committee also received on Saturday a $1,000.00 check from Jermaine Cameron, the Jamaican-born principal of the Eagle Academy in Staten Island.

“It’s important for us to give back and to teach our students a sense of community,” Cameron told Caribbean Life after the presentation ceremony at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center. “Every effort would be able to relieve the burden that some persons face.”

Arthur said another “good news story” came in the form of a letter to her from an unidentified elderly Montserratian woman – “over 94 years old and born in Montserrat.”

“She expressed, in her beautiful letter, her understanding of what Vincentians are going through, as it relates to the 1995 volcano eruption in Montserrat,” said Arthur, but added some “bad news” from the senior citizen.

“She also made an important point about the ash and her uncle, who ‘eventually went to England as his lungs had to be detoxed due to all of the ash that he had inhaled. He died two years later due to lung complications,’” continued Arthur. “I’m urging people to wear their masks.”