Story by Cassi McCarrick, Communications Volunteer
The Central Florida Red Cross recently welcomed our counterparts from the U.S. Virgin Islands to our regional family -- creating the American Red Cross of Central Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The new service area for the combined team includes 19 Florida counties and the Virgin Islands territory comprised of three large islands – St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, as well as the smaller Water Island.
Across the islands, the Red Cross has four staff members serving the territory from two offices:
* John Duck, Executive Director, USVI team member since 2017
* Lily Alvarez, Disaster Program Manager, St. Croix, team member since 2014
* Patricia Swan, Disaster Program Manager, St. Thomas, team member since 2018
* Marcia Smith, Volunteer Specialist, team member since 2017
We asked each of them about their history with the Red Cross and what it’s like to work on the islands.
“The Red Cross aligns with my values,” said John, a Red Crosser of 16 years who joined the USVI team on September 3, 2017, just days before Hurricane Irma hit the territory as a Category 5, quickly followed by Hurricane Maria (also a Cat 5). “It’s been a long journey from 2017 to today, but through it all, the Red Cross has been here, supporting our Virgin Islands community.”
The USVI team has worked hard since the back-to-back storms to build capacity to respond to disasters large and small. Today, there are about 180 volunteers among the islands.
“It’s a very tight knit and close community here, everyone jumps in where they can,” Marcia explains, a retired New York teacher of 28 years who started as a volunteer. “A lot of people want to help when disaster strikes.”
The team has also learned a lot and made great strides since Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“We’ve made a lot of positive changes since 2017,” adds Lily, who has dedicated 35 years to non-profit work. “ARCVI has increased warehouse capacity to hold additional emergency supplies in both St. Thomas and St. Croix rather than have to wait for ports to open and receive supplies for community assistance soon after a disaster. We also have a closer relationship with local agencies to support shelters and clients.”
Red Cross workers understand that every disaster is different – and responding to disasters on islands is different.
“There isn’t a bridge connecting the islands, so moving large quantities of items has be dependent of ferry or boat, which can cause a delay,” explains Patricia who also started as a volunteer. “Geography can also make it a little more difficult to maneuver, but we make it happen when we need to.”
John agreed, “It can be a process, but we get the job done to accomplish the mission and serve our island community.”