Hurricane Maria became a category 5 storm Monday night. The Virgin Islands is currently in its path. It’s hard to put into words how those of us who call St. John home are currently feeling. What I do know is that we have to keep the faith. We need to continue having hope. So today I’d like to introduce you to one of my very best friends – Ben Steed. Ben is the owner of Born to Rhumb charters. In the days following Irma, Ben worked tirelessly, along with a group of current and previous St. John residents, to secure much needed supplies and provide relief for the United States Virgin Islands. Ben sent me the following email Sunday night:
I’m Ben Steed and my wife Jen and I moved to St John after I completed 9 years of active duty service in the U.S. Marines as an MV-22 pilot. An opportunity to own a small business came up and with a dream for a brighter future and a love for St John, so we took the plunge. When Irma hit, we were in Oahu, Hawaii visiting friends since this is our “off season” in the USVI. I hated what I was seeing unfold during Irma and made some calls to friends to see what we could do to help our friends in need. My friends Jesse Vann, Pat Connolly, Matt Atkinson and I immediately started a Facebook page called “St John Irma Relief” and began organizing an effort that today is more massive than I ever thought would be, now rebranded as Virgin Islands Relief. We hit the ground running in mustering up volunteers to go down and help with search and rescue efforts, collecting supplies and figuring out how we could get aid to St John. I spent 10 hours a day for the next 4 days, mainly focused on inserting a highly technical search and rescue team (Global DIRT) onto St John with financial assistance from St John Rescue. Also during that time, we coordinated evacuation boats from Puerto Rico and St Croix that would bring hurricane battered people from St John to those islands. The heroism displayed by the boat captains and coordinators on the ground in those locations has been unreal- those individuals are true heroes
The next phase was spent in collecting much needed supplies for those on island. We reached out via social media to try and get as many supplies as we could for St John. We decided to stage out of Philadelphia as a collection point and command center to help in organizing our efforts. Over the next couple of days, we all met at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport where donations started coming in by the thousands. With a volunteer force, we processed well over 200,000 lbs of donated supplies that were sent via Amazon and local donations. We initially aimed to send privately donated aircraft down with supplies for immediate relief, but then ran into issues finding and funding such aircraft. The majority have gone out for ocean freight to the USVI. We are now focused on the rebuild aspect of our mission, that will prove to be the most costly and lengthy process, but is needed to restore what once was a paradise for everyone to fall in love with. From immediate search and rescue coordination to evacuation planning and coordination to our supply drive in Philadelphia, we have worked nonstop for the last 10 days; for our island, for our friends and for our home! Please visit us at www.virginislandsrelief.org and @virginislandsrelief on Facebook.