NEW YORK, United States (CMC) — Deeply troubled by the series of volcanic eruptions afflicting their homeland by La Soufrière volcano, nationals of St Vincent and the Grenadines residing in the United States are calling for “all hands on deck” to rush urgent relief aid to their homeland.
“This is a day we all hoped would never have come,” declared Vaughan P A Toney, the chief executive officer and president of the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers, at a hastily-arranged media briefing called by the Brooklyn-based St Vincent and the Grenadines Relief, Inc.
Toney, who is also a member of SVG Relief, Inc, noted that, beginning April 9, a series of explosive events at La Soufrière triggered a national emergency “blanketing our nation in a layer of volcanic ash, creating widespread disruption of critical electricity and water supplies and forcing thousands of our families to flee their homes in search of safety elsewhere on the islands and in our neighbouring Caribbean territories.
“Our National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) has sprung into action to do what it can to protect the health and safety of our people,” said Toney, a former candidate for a New York City Council seat in Brooklyn. “But the government cannot navigate this crisis alone. A crisis of this magnitude requires all hands on deck.
“And, in particular, it requires the united, organised and supportive engagement of our entire Vincentian Diaspora,” urged Toney, announcing that this weekend the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center will be accepting deliveries of emergency relief supplies.
Toney said the committee has prepared a list of the most needed supplies to assist thousands of displaced Vincentian nationals who have been forced to evacuate their homes and are now housed in emergency shelters.
“Let us not forget that this crisis is unfolding in the midst of a public health emergency due to COVID. So, we need to be especially careful in protecting the health and safety of evacuees in congregate settings.”
He said the eventual economic cost of rebuilding thousands of homes and restoring vital infrastructure crippled by the eruptions will, no doubt, amount to billions of dollars.
“And the long-term cost to survivors – especially our children — may be incalculable, as they struggle to cope with a combination of physical and mental traumas arising from this catastrophe. But our immediate need is for food, water and the essential items needed to preserve the health and safety of our people.
“We know that giving is a very personal decision; and so, on behalf of our entire Relief Committee, I thank you in advance for your generous support,” Toney said.
Verna Arthur, chairperson of SVG Relief, Inc, said since the group was formed in 2013, it has mobilised and donated relief aid to St Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean countries and organisations.
“Our current initiative is assisting NEMO with its request to help SVG fight COVID-19, dengue fever and the eruptions of La Soufrière volcano,” she said, adding “and now, 2021, we are here once again, without hesitation, responding to the call of our beloved country”.
Laverne McDowald-Thompson, president of the umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, Council of St Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, USA, Inc (COSAGO), said her organisation is working with other Vincentian groups to conduct relief efforts.
“I’m here to join with all on this platform today to make a special appeal to the Vincentian community to lend a hand to our brothers and sisters at home. We stand in a state of readiness to respond to our country’s needs.
“Let’s all join hand. Let’s stand united for the benefit of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Together, we can help to meet the needs of our people.”
Sherrill-Ann Mason-Haywood, coordinator of the Brooklyn-based SVG Disaster Relief Initiative Platform (SVG-DRIP), said the new dynamic platform is “designed to bring together Vincentians across the globe to rally around collective initiatives that increase the impact and reach of localised efforts to support SVG before and after major disasters and crises.”
Through constructive dialogue and cooperation, Mason-Haywood said SVG-DRIP has mobilised persons and groups throughout the Diaspora in the US, United Kingdom, Canada and US Virgin Islands to work together “to kick-start a major, joint relief initiative” that was launched on February 20, on the virtual platform of VC3 television in St Vincent and the Grenadines and on other major social media platforms.
“This SVG-DRIP approach is designed to scale up the scope of outreach and to ensure that Vincentians across the globe, of all generations, can have an opportunity to be a part of relief initiatives to help SVG,” she told the conference.
St Vincent and the Grenadines’ New York Consul General, Howie Prince, said his office has been mandated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate and accept relief on behalf of the country.
“Because the Consulate General has been asked to coordinate these efforts, we’re asking all organisations to contact the Consulate, so we can point you in the right direction,” said Prince, noting that he had had preliminary discussions with Brooklyn Democratic congressional representatives Yvette D. Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and Hakeem Jeffries, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, for the use of a military aircraft to ship relief aid to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“I’m grateful for the assistance of the organisations, and we’ll work together hand-in-hand,” he added.
The Orlando-based St Vincent and the Grenadines Central Florida Organization (SVGCFO) has also asked nationals in the area to help in the massive relief effort.
Public relations officer, Lydia Daniel, said the group is accepting cash donations, as well as food, bed sheets, towels, toiletries, mask, kids items (pampers, baby food, wipes), cough, flu, allergy medicine, cots, portable potties, blankets, and goggles, among other items.
The Brooklyn-based St Vincent and the Grenadines Progressive Organization of New York, Inc (SPOONY), the New York arm of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in St Vincent and the Grenadines, is also urging nationals to chip in in the massive relief effort.
“SPOONY is one of several organisations of Vincentian origin collecting donations to be sent to the island,” said SPOONY president Stephen “Scombo” John, a former unsuccessful electoral candidate in St Vincent and the Grenadines, in an appeal to supporters and friends.
“One hundred percent of our collections would be sent to help relieve the pain and suffer of our brothers and sisters. If you are able, we ask that you join us in this effort.”
Second Vice District Governor of The Lions of District 20-K Lion, Ingrid Andrews-Campbell, a Vincentian residing in Brooklyn, told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that she will be coordinating “this continuous effort” on behalf of District Governor Jackie Phillips from the Lions of Brooklyn and Queens.
Andrews-Campbell said she will also work closely in this initiative with Junior Bacchus, local coordinator of Lions of SVG Disaster Response.
Brooklyn Borough President and New York City Mayoral Candidate, Eric Adams, has joined the Caribbean community in New York in offering, and appealing for, assistance to volcano-ravaged St Vincent and the Grenadines.
On a rainy, dreary afternoon last Sunday, Adams joined Prince and a group of Brooklyn-based Vincentian community organisers in appealing for desperately-needed aid.
“The Caribbean community has been there for us time and time again, including many of our frontline workers,” Adams told CMC afterwards.
“We need to be there for the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines in their time of need.”
Dr Judith D Newton, a Barbadian-born candidate for the 46th Council District seat in Brooklyn and president of the Newton Foundation, named after she and her husband, said “this is the time for our local, national and international community to engage in effective communication and collectively identify priority items needed for use by Vincentians to help them recover and go about their daily lives.
As a first responder, Newton, a retired New York Police Department (NYPD) detective, told CMC, that her “heart goes out to all Vincentians and Caribbean nations that are affected.
“I wholeheartedly pledge my support, am ready to travel to the troubled zone to assist with item distribution, and will donate to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines in this time of need,” she said, urging “all elected officials to join together for the common good and advocate for (New York) Governor (Andrew) Cuomo to move the needle and help us get those necessary supplies to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.”