When the La Soufriere volcano erupted on the northern end of St. Vincent nearly two weeks ago, it didn’t take the U.S. Virgin Islands Soccer Association very long to decide to do something to help.
That’s what led the USVISA to start up a relief effort to bring much-needed items to the beleaguered eastern Caribbean island.
Working through its sister association, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation, the USVISA’s Assistance Drive — which began Monday and runs through April 30 — aims to gather relief supplies for shipment to the island.
The plans for the assistance drive were already underway even before the SVG Football Federation got the word out seeking help, according to USVISA general secretary Lishati Bailey.
“As soon as I heard about the incident, I reached out to [SVGFF general secretary Devron Poyer] and his assistants over there immediately, just to ask how things were going,” Bailey said during Tuesday’s teleconference. “Right then and there, [Poyer] responded and stated that they would be reaching out to ask for our formal support. So even before they reached out to us, we reached out to them.”
The initial eruption of the La Soufriere volcano forced the evacuation of more than 16,000 people from the northern end of St. Vincent. Further eruptions — the latest occurring Sunday afternoon — have left the island’s buildings and roads covered with a thick layer of volcanic ash.
“We’re not back to a state of normalcy yet,” Poyer said during the teleconference. “When the eruption first took place, the first thing we did is, through the direction and guidance of NEMO, our national emergency organization here, we put our vehicles to use to assist in the evacuation of persons who are in the ‘red zone.’ After that, we’ve been using our buses to try to reach persons who are in those areas that are in need of foodstuffs and other supplies along those lines.
“We’ve been doing things as an organization, as a federation, to try to assist in whatever areas we can. We have a membership of 59 affiliates, and 10 of those 59 affiliates were directly impacted — that takes us up to 2,000 or so members that we have to try to take care of.”
Poyer quickly set up a communications network between his fellow secretary generals at other soccer associations in the Caribbean, which has already produced results.
For example, the Grenada Football Association has a 40-foot cargo container packed with bottled water on its way to St. Vincent, the USVISA also has a shipment on the way, and other organizations are putting together relief packages.
“We were assured by a number of associations — the USVI, Grenada, Antigua, Dominica — all have pledged assistance,” Poyer said. “Some already have assistance on their way to us; the others have assured me they are making decisions on what they’re going to send.”
Poyer also said that officials from FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, as well as regional groups CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union have all reached out offering assistance.
The U.S. Virgin Islands Soccer Association has set up two collection sites to accept donations from the public — the USVISA’s offices at the Bethlehem Soccer Complex on St. Croix, and at the Viking Corporation’s offices behind Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas.
Donations will be accepted between 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturdays. Requested supplies are bottled water, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, first aid items, and canned food and other non-perishable items.
“Those are some of the things [the USVISA] is preparing to send aid and support to our brothers on St. Vincent,” Bailey said.
Carol Howell, the USVISA’s communications and marketing coordinator, remembers a time when the Virgin Islands needed the support of others in the region.
“We understand in the U.S. Virgin Islands the challenges that can come with natural disasters. As recently as 2017, we had two Category 5 [hurricanes] that devastated our islands, and lots of folks in the Caribbean reached out to help,” she said.