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Friday, January 15, 2021

Not just Puerto Rico: U.S. Virgin Islands desperate for hurricane relief

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Bishop Anne Henning Byfield is concerned for her flock.

Byfield is the bishop of the 16th District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and though she is located in Indianapolis, her jurisdiction covers areas in the Caribbean, Europe and South America — including the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“My concern has been the media … you haven’t heard anything,” said Byfield. “There has been no coverage — none — of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It just grieves me that I turn on the TV and all I see is Puerto Rico. It’s not like you’re helping another country; it’s the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Byfield says the Virgin Islands doesn’t get hit by hurricanes often, and definitely not with this level of impact. Irma hit all three islands — St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas — but Byfield, who has churches on both St. Croix and St. Thomas, said she is focusing her recovery efforts on the former, raising money and collecting donated items to send to St. Croix.

“I’m raising money. I am sending shipments. We just sent our third one,” she said. “We’re sending tarps, both gas and solar generators, food, blankets, etc. We now have the crisis of insects, so we’re sending chainsaws, insect repellent and topical creams. We’re also in crisis with babies who need diapers, formula, the gamut. The only thing we have not been asked for in St. Croix is water.”

Byfield is unsure why the U.S. Virgin Islands hasn’t gotten the attention it needs, but she has some ideas.

“Some of it is political, some of it is color. Some of it is just national ignorance. But I am everyday working to help the people in St. Croix. I really want to give attention to St. Croix, but also the entire U.S. Virgin Islands.”


Missing normalcy

Rev. Carlos W. Perkins serves St. Luke AME in St. Croix. He has been on the island for 2 1/2 years and has seen firsthand the devastation from the storms, especially with the blunt hit from Hurricane Maria. Perkins says 75 percent of the island does not have electricity.

“We will probably not have electricity until the first of the year. We’re trying to get to normalcy,” said Perkins. “It’s hard to have normal day-to-day life and activities when you’re missing essential things. We want the people to know we’re here, that we solicit their prayers and support, financially and human.”

Perkins said he and a group of pastors have been working daily since the first wave of devastation hit, reaching out to the community with any support they can offer.

“We have been on the ground since both hurricanes Irma and Maria hit,” said Perkins. “We live in the mission field.”

Perkins’ church also felt the brunt of the storm, losing half of its roof and sustaining damage to the parsonage.

“We, too, have to go through the rebuilding process,” said Perkins. “We need your support here. There are individuals in great need. FEMA has been here and present on the ground; however, they’re not reaching everyone in the way they need to be reached.” 


‘People are struggling’

Rev. Jermaine Mulley was born and raised in the U.S. Virgin Islands on St. Croix. He recently left the island because of Hurricane Irma and the devastation left in its wake. 

“The hurricanes made a lot of things a lot more difficult and realistically complex to do what we need to do, even in our personal lives,” said Mulley. “We needed that nudge. To see what God could do to open doors elsewhere.”

Mulley and his wife moved to Dallas, where Mulley attended college and divinity school. He is in the process of finalizing a job. His plan was to wait to move and pursue more education and create a legacy, but logistically, it was time to go.

“We’ve been ravaged. It’s very bad,” said Mulley. “In order for us to make a true impact, we need to have more resources that people can actually use, like water and food. My aim is to employ more people back home — put their hand to the plow and restructure how we do things.” 

Mulley says the island needs pretty much every type of supplies, from batteries to baby formula.

“There are people back there who are in need of resources,” he said. “People are struggling.”


How you can help

Donate money online at ame16th.org or send checks payable to 16th Episcopal District AME Church with “relief fund” in the memo line to P.O. Box 55106, Indianapolis, IN 462015.

Bishop Anne Henning Byfield 

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