In September of last year Hurricanes Irma and Maria, two Category 5 storms, slammed into the United States Virgin Islands just ten days apart, causing crippling damage to vital infrastructure such as water, power, and communications, as well as homes and businesses.
Realizing that there were no local disaster-specific NGOs based in the USVI, the Disaster Recovery Support Initiative (DRSI) deployed Rachel Larratt, long-term recovery group formation advisor, to support the formation of long-term recovery groups, working alongside local community leaders, NGOs and voluntary organizations, and both federal and local government agencies. Larratt was joined in January by Tim Sheaffer, DRSI construction management advisor, and long-term volunteers Marks Beitins and Marcy Magness-Sheaffer.
DRSI is a joint endeavor of Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, and the disaster ministries of the United Church of Christ and the Church of the Brethren. It works to help communities shorten the time between an immediate disaster response and long-term recovery. DRSI is building disaster recovery know-how among local leadership and equipping them to better respond to future disasters.
The partnership has also been able to leverage funds committed by Week of Compassion and the other denominations to secure additional recovery funding from other organizations, including Church World Service, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI), and the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
Last month, DRSI received a grant of $212,000 from the Fund for the Virgin Islands through the CFVI. According to the grant awards letter, an important factor in the review committee's decision to award the grant to DRSI was its "experience in case management and LTRG capacity-building, which has served as an important mentorship to the St Thomas Recovery Team (and others), expediting its effective formation."
The needs on St. Thomas are staggering, Larratt said. With a pre-hurricane population of 51,642, 18,258 households have registered for assistance with FEMA (the highest in the USVI). "Elevated rates of unemployment due to the storms' impact on tourism, along with a rise in the cost of consumer goods (including construction materials) in a territory where the cost of living was already 24 percent higher than the U.S. average, means that residents have difficulty meeting even their basic needs, much less finding the resources to repair their damaged and destroyed homes," she said. "Current assessments estimate over $80,000,000 in unmet needs. For those identified as having sustained moderate to severe damage to their homes, estimated average repair costs are $32,780 per household."
Your gifts to Week of Compassion have enabled us to respond to these needs and to enhance the capacity of the local response. As recovery continues in the US Virgin Islands, your partnership continues to make a difference!
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED ON ST. THOMAS:
Thousands of homes that suffered roof damage are still leaking and growing mold with every passing day. While the necessary case management and funding for repair and rebuild work are still in process, there is much we can do! Homes need to be cleaned out, tarped to protect from rain, and treated for mold so they do not continue to deteriorate until they can be properly repaired. The DRSI team has identified churches that are willing to host volunteers, and we are preparing for your arrival beginning with the week of April 8th!
For more information, visit www.discipleshomemissions.org/usvi-response/
Volunteer Inquiries, STTVolunteer@DRSIteam.org
Rachel Larratt, rachel@DRSIteam.org
Tim Sheaffer, tim@DRSIteam.org