As COVID-19 continues its impact across the globe, nonprofit organizations have stepped up to help their communities by addressing gaps in the pandemic response in a variety of ways. In turn, there has been a significant trend in large philanthropic organizations rising to the occasion and modifying the way they do business with nonprofits. Some foundations have helped by ramping up their allotment of funds to cover general operating costs — A sticking point in an industry that demands low overhead yet high benchmarks for success and sweeping outcomes — While others have extended funding deadlines or shifted funding requirements entirely. At Love City Strong, many of our original plans for 2020 were put on hold temporarily (or in some cases indefinitely) in favor of pivoting to address community needs caused by the pandemic. Providing PPE to first responders and healthcare workers, feeding the community during the Virgin Islands’ initial lockdown, and bulking up a backstock supply of PPE in anticipation of a second wave of cases became our priorities. Fortunately, we benefited from the flexibility and generosity of one of our key philanthropic funders. The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has been a tremendous help to our organization in this time of need. They not only allowed funds granted in 2019 to be extended through the end of 2020, but also for the funding to be pivoted from its original purpose, and instead used for our COVID-19 response efforts. Without their support, none of our COVID-19 microprograms would be possible. It is refreshing and heartening to see large donors and philanthropic organizations like CFVI pivot to address funding the world’s ever changing needs, just as NGOs have pivoted to address those needs on the ground. I believe that this fluid, all-hazards approach is the future of efficient and inclusive disaster response, as nonprofits and faith based organizations continue to do what is necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the communities that they serve. With less trepidation about funding general operating costs, and relaxed requirements on how philanthropic funding can be used, there is no telling how much nonprofits can accomplish moving forward. The question is whether these philanthropic commitments to increase funds, provide more flexibility, and limit asks of nonprofits will become part of the “new normal” — Or whether the habits of big donors will return to business as usual.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season triggers countless emotions for many Virgin Islanders and residents of the VI. This is not only a time when we are busy preparing for the possibilities of storms; it is also a time of year that we tend to remember the one storm that changed the course of so many lives. On September 6, 2017 Hurricane Irma cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean basin, impacting the lives of millions. With record high wind speeds of 185 miles per hour, Irma was one of the deadliest and to date the strongest storm on record in the Atlantic region. St. John was utterly devastated; the island experienced widespread destruction to its structures, roads, critical infrastructure and widespread power loss. 13 days later, Hurricane Maria followed, and delivered a second, crushing blow. St. John received over 3 feet of rain in under 24 hours, and response efforts made by our sister islands were forced to halt completely. Maria was the tenth-most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, with peak winds of 175mph. To say that such unprecedented natural disasters changed the reality of everyday life in the Virgin Islands would be an understatement. The team at Love City Strong suffered our share of losses due to the storms of 2017. Many of us lost our homes or our jobs, and some of us endured even greater personal hardships. However, just as our shared experiences as survivors of natural disasters are what brought us together, it is our collective passion for preparedness that keeps us motivated and helps us to get through this difficult time of year. It is fitting, then, that the anniversary of Hurricanes Irma and Maria falls during National Preparedness Month—A time to ensure that the impact of natural disasters is reduced through meaningful action. For LCS, meaningful action means implementing strategies that worked after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in a more organized fashion, and ensuring that response assets are prestaged on the island and ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. Each year, we deploy 25 seasonal employees who are on standby from July through November; they are trained in a variety of safety, first aid, and professional first responder protocols. Part of this team are trained to remove debris from secondary roadways. All members of this team are Virgin Islanders or longtime residents who have lived on St. John for no less than five years, and they are from a variety of backgrounds and age ranges to better reflect the diversity of the community. We maintain a variety of response assets, including large commercial generators and several pieces of heavy equipment, that we can provide to essential businesses should the need arise. We facilitate the permanent storage of FEMA assets on St. John, including shelf sustainable water and MREs, to ensure that we do not need to wait for commodities to be transported from another island. We also coordinate with the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency (VITEMA) to assist them in their hurricane readiness efforts, like distributing sandbags and blue roof materials. We perform pre-event and post-event wellness checks on hundreds of residents every single time that a storm is headed our way, regardless of its size, and assist seniors and persons with access and functional needs in their preparedness efforts. Though our preparedness priorities shift as we face new and dynamic challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, our core mission remains the same: Take meaningful action and utilize the human resources present in the community to ensure that St. John is better prepared for disasters. While we will never forget the traumatic experience of the 2017 hurricanes that brought us together, we have a collective commitment to being part of a stronger, more prepared community. The passion that guided our actions immediately following Irma and Maria continues to drive us in our constantly evolving preparedness and response programs.
In December 2019, the novel coronavirus changed lives on a global scale. At Love City Strong we have made every effort to react as quickly as possible; pivoting from what we had originally planned for 2020 to make addressing the issues caused by COVID-19 our number one priority. COVID-19 Response Timeline On March 6th, we began purchasing bulk supplies of PPE and sanitation products to give to healthcare professionals, first responders, and essential workers on St. John in anticipation of the global shortage. Our distribution of these supplies occurred throughout the month of March, a full two months before the national stockpile supplies arrived in the Virgin Islands. On March 10th, we began to distribute COVID-19 informational flyers in English and in Spanish across the island. These flyers were vetted by the Virgin Islands Department of Health and the CDC, and featured all of the information known about COVID-19 at that time. Over 500 flyers were distributed within 72 hours. On March 13th, one day before the first case of COVID-19 in the Virgin Islands was announced by territory healthcare officials, we made the decision to close our office to the public and either suspend or greatly modify our programs in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Our teams modified their procedures to either limit or cease in-home visits with our clients and increased regular sanitation of their work vehicles and supplies. We also encouraged all employees to work from home rather than in our office. As of August, these practices remain in place. On April 13th, we began partnering with World Central Kitchen to deliver hot and cold meals to seniors, families with children, and individuals with a disability or chronic health condition. We also delivered meals to healthcare workers and first responders every other week in addition to our household deliveries. Our relationships with the small business community were able to make this program more robust and efficient—We hired St. John Brewers to increase meal preparation and storage capacity, and Rock n’ Rolla Charters to provide both additional transportation for our team and a Spanish translator. Our Go Team delivered over 500 meals and snack packs directly to over 200 different households every single week for three months. In May, the CDC released new guidance regarding the importance of wearing masks in public. To encourage and normalize this practice, we launched a month-long social media campaign called “We Not Me.” During the campaign, we shared photos that were sent to us from people in the Virgin Islands and around the world wearing their masks. Each photo was accompanied by a short testimonial from that person with their specific reasons for taking this precaution seriously. You can view the entries in this campaign on our Instagram account by clicking the #WeNotMe story highlight. In June we partnered with St. John retailer Big Planet to provide free, reusable face masks to St. John residents and visitors. The first batch of masks were provided to households that we were delivering meals to, and to churches in Cruz Bay and Coral Bay. We then set up small buckets of masks at several different businesses across the island, where they are available to anyone in need. The free masks will be provided at these locations from June through the end of August, and thus far approximately 2,000 masks have been given away. Our Mission Moving Forward At LCS, it has always been our philosophy to prepare for the worst and hope for the best through all hazards, and this has served us well during this unprecedented time. Through the early and decisive actions of our team, we have been able to continue serving the community of St. John through both our existing programs and new, short-term initiatives while keeping ourselves and our clients safe. Wherever you are, we urge you to continue to be vigilant and responsible as COVID-19’s impact continues. This isn’t over. Whether you are young or old; healthy or high-risk, we must all continue to do our part to take extra care with our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.