Vincentians in the United States Diaspora are calling for “all hands on deck” to rush urgent relief aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the wake of the ongoing, massive La Soufrière volcano eruptions.
“This is a day we all hoped would never have come,” declared Vincentian Vaughan P. A. Toney, chief executive officer and president of the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Centers, at a media briefing Sunday at one of his centers, at 671 Prospect Place in Brooklyn, 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 Friday, a series of explosive events at La Soufrière has 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 neighboring 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,” he said. “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, organized and supportive engagement of our entire Vincentian Diaspora,” Toney urged. “And I am pleased to announce that next Saturday and Sunday — April 17 and 18 — we will be accepting deliveries of emergency relief supplies at the Friends of Crown Heights Educational Center, located at 671 Prospect Place, in Brooklyn.”
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.
He emphasized the urgent need for blankets and field tents, respirator masks, personal hygiene kits, bleach, disinfectants, “and lots of food and drinking water.”
“Let us not forget that this crisis is unfolding in the midst of a public health emergency due to COVID,” Toney cautioned. “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,” Toney said. “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,” he added.
Verna Arthur, chairperson of SVG Relief, Inc., said since the group was formed in 2013, it has mobilized and donated relief aid to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean countries and organizations.
“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 told the press conference. “And now, 2021, we are here once again, without hesitation, responding to the call of our beloved country.”
Laverne Dowald-Thompson, president of the umbrella Vincentian group in the United States, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organizations, USA, Inc. (COSAGO), said her organization 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,” she urged. “We stand in a state of readiness to respond to our country’s needs.
“Let’s all join hand,” she added. “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 localized efforts to support SVG before and after major disasters and crises.”
Through constructive dialogue and cooperation, Mason-Haywood said SVG-DRIP has mobilized 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 Feb. 20, 2021 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 at home 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 organizations to contact the Consulate, so we can point you in the right direction,” said Prince, disclosing that he had had preliminary discussions with Brooklyn congressional representatives Yvette D. Clarke 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 organizations, 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.
The group is organizing a Volcano Relief Disaster Drive on Friday, April 16 and Saturday, April 17, at 3701 N John Young Parkway, Orlando Fl. 32804, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, “and would like to invite you to support our drive,” according to public relations officer Lydia Daniel.
She said the group is accepting the following donations: “Food, bed sheets, towels, toiletries, mask, kids items (pampers, baby food, wipes), cough, flu, allergy medicine, cots, portable potties, blankets, goggles, etc.
“We would also accept a cash donation,” said Daniel, stating that cash donations can be made at cash app: $svgcfo, or Zelle: [email protected].”