BLESSINGS FROM PARADISE
A Personal Story of Recovery From St. John
APRIL 19, 2018
Since losing my Coral Bay home completely to a tornado in the eye wall of Category 5 Hurricane Irma and being evacuated in a military helicopter basket from the rubble that was once my home, my main sources of St. John information were various internet sites and social media posts. Thank you for the information that you shared from many different sources.
After power was restored to our site and we could buy back our truck (as our vehicle was destroyed), we arrived on St. John at the end of February to start our recovery. With our income reduced to social security and only enough to cover basic expenses, recovery seemed impossible. Then we ran into a flier from All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response. It sounded too good to be true when they offered to come assess our site and possibly remove all the debris, only asking that we provide the dumpster for site debris removal.
The amount of debris on our property was immense. It not only included ours but also items from many neighbor’s homes and properties. Besides demolishing our home and scattering it all over the lot, the tornado scooped-up a neighbor’s cottage along with appliances, beds, personal belongings, building materials, etc. and dumped it on us.
After assessing our property, these amazing Debris Angels (as I call them) from All Hands and Hearts said they would be happy to help clean it all up. They arrived daily with a small highly organized and competent staff and a team of volunteers with big smiles on their faces, kind words and a passion for helping people. I start sobbing every time I think of the open hearts that these people have.
There were no private tax forms to submit, hoops to jump through, letters to write, papers to find that were lost in the rubble, phone calls or groveling to do. There were just those kind, smiling faces that came to help in an immediate and meaningful way. And who came day-by-day relentlessly removing the debris and attacking each day’s challenges.
In the first 3 days they were here, they removed 3 or more dumpsters of debris from our back yard/driveway, tarped the upstairs tile floor to stop the leaking into the small apartment below that will be our new home, emptied our small pool full of debris, reclaimed access to all our stairs leading to the apartment level and gutted the apartment walls and ceilings, removing the molding furniture and moldy gunk created by 5 months of exposure to the elements. And still they smiled and showed kindness and care for whatever belongings we could possibly save.
They extended this same amazingly considerate demeanor to each other as they worked, always caring for each team member’s safety and assigning jobs appropriate to the age, skill set, and physical capabilities of each volunteer.
One lovely volunteer who I call my “Vacation Debris Angel”, Diane, gave up 3 whole vacation days to haul debris in the hot sun. I could not comprehend someone using their hard-earned vacation to help me like this, but she had been visiting St. John for 20 years and felt compelled to make a difference on what she considers her “special little island.” Thank you, dear Vacation Debris Angel.
So, this is my story. All Hands and Hearts inspired me to be a better person, they gave me new hope, and provided a place to start a safe St. John recovery. Thank you one and all, from the lovely angel that comes for a day, to Petra Nemcova and David Campbell, the people who created this amazingly successful humanitarian effort. Bless you all for all you do.
In closing, if YOU want to help us in our recovery, please take it from someone who has experienced it and finally found a source of REAL and immediate help. If so inclined, volunteer. If, like me, you are too old and fragile for that, I encourage you to help with office or secondary work or help fund them to continue with this amazing work of providing REAL, ground-zero help to disaster victims.
Thank you for visiting St. John and supporting our economy, loving St. John and for considering my story.
Blessings from Paradise,
Sharon & David
Photos taken by Melana Preston and Sharon Mckee. Story by Sharon Mckee for All Hands and Hearts