Well folks, we promised to share both the good and the bad. Today, we have some not so great news. Apparently the Red Cross is looking to pull its aid from St. John. The following writeup was sent to us from Rebecca Reinbold. Rebecca oversees communications for The Longboard restaurant in Cruz Bay.
Less than a month after catastrophic and record-breaking category 5 Hurricane Irma, and less than two weeks after category 5 Hurricane Maria, and the Red Cross is preparing to pull aid from the decimated and crippled island of St. John in the Unites States Virgin Islands.
The Longboard, a bar and restaurant located in Cruz Bay, St. John, responded quickly to humanitarian needs following Hurricane Irma. The local business provided some of the first on-the-ground relief and served over 2,500 meals to island residents before the Red Cross arrived on island. Owner Clint Gaskins saw the hurricane setting her sights on St. John in early September, and quickly headed to the Virgin Islands so that he could be in St. John to help the island, check on the safety of his staff and board up the restaurant properly to ensure that The Longboard could respond and get back up and running as quickly as possible in order to feed people. Just two days after the Hurricane Irma hit the US territory, The Longboard cranked up the kitchen and began providing free meals to St. John’s first responders, emergency personnel and residents, and continued to do so every other day for the next week.
The Red Cross took notice of their efforts and met with Gaskins. On Monday, Sept. 18, The Longboard officially commenced food service on behalf of the Red Cross to continue to be able to supply food. The contract was for 30 days, with an end date of Oct. 18. All signs, including conversations with FEMA and Bloomberg, suggested that the Red Cross would not only complete their original contract, but also extend to serve the need longer.
Fast forward to the morning of September 29, when Gaskins heard through the grapevine that the Red Cross might be pulling out of St. John right away. After conversations attempting to get to the bottom of it, Gaskins learned that indeed, the Red Cross is looking to leave St. John as early as Tuesday, Oct. 3. After further discussion with the business owners, the Red Cross drew up a handwritten agreement to extend that to Oct. 11.
As with all contracts, there are loopholes and opportunities to exit the contract, this with a stipulation for a three-day notice. But three days is not enough, especially given the dire circumstances and isolated location. The Longboard changed its normal course of business to accommodate the volume needs for the Red Cross. St. John is an island. The supply chain is a week deep at best, meaning that goods are ordered more than seven days in advance in order to accommodate for transportation and estimated arrival. Then, there is the overall shortage of goods, meaning that the business owners had to buy weeks of items at a time in order to fulfill needs before supplies were depleted. Then, there is the staff; there are 12 employees who did not evacuate and leave the devastation, but rather, are camped out and on St. John still because they committed to helping their community and were desperate to retain employment. Then, there is the state of the island, which has a 100% loss of the power grid and an estimated 90% of homes destroyed. There is no running water. MRE’s and bottled water are still being handed out on the ball field. People are struggling to survive.
It seems the Red Cross might feel that the island is now sustainable, though island residents or one look at the conditions will tell you differently. The island and its community are still very much in need, and hot meals are just scratching the surface of that need. Yet, nourishment is necessary and a bare minimum.
“I told employees we would serve meals for a month. We will do a month, through Sunday, Oct. 15th, because we said we would. We told the community we would,” shared Gaskins in a statement on Thursday. “We made a promise and we will honor that commitment, even if the Red Cross does not. We need to keep getting meals out to those in need.”
The Longboard is in excess of an estimated $50,000 out of pocket for operating expenses and cost of goods. Aside from receiving a $2,000 mobilization fee from the Red Cross, no other money has been received from the organization to date. Thankfully, The Longboard started a GoFundMe account early on to help with the relief efforts, and plans to utilize these privately raised funds to complete the contract that the Red Cross seeks to renege.
If you would like to help The Longboard continue with its mission, please consider donating to our on island relief efforts. You can donate to the St. John Community Foundation here or Kenny Chesney’s Love for Love City Foundation here.
We reached out to the Red Cross for comment, but have yet to hear back. We will keep you all posted. -Jenn