Locals show their support for U.S. Virgin Islands damaged during Hurricane Irma

Special to The Current

Living in a coastal community such as Folly Beach, last month was a reminder of just how quickly our whole world can change when dealing with Mother Nature. Luckily for us, we avoided the brunt Hurricane Irma. Many of the islands in the Caribbean were not so lucky. St. Johns and St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit particularly hard.

In response to the death and destruction Hurricane Irma inflicted on the U.S. Virgin Islands, a couple local groups are doing something to help. On Sunday, Oct. 1 The Washout on Folly Beach hosted Island to Island: A Benefit for The Virgin Islands, that featured seven different bands, raffles, give-aways, and a silent auction. All proceeds went to “Love for Love City,” a disaster relief campaign for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands started by country music singer Kenny Chesney.

Another local relief effort also has Folly roots. Folly resident Claire Young and friend Andi Cummings helped launch “LowcountryLOVEforVI,” a grassroots charity effort devoted to collecting and delivering much- needed supplies to residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands victimized by the storm.

“I lived in the Virgin Islands for three years before I moved to Folly Beach in 2013. It was while living on St. Thomas that I truly came to appreciate the value of island life and community, and too the risks associated with it,” says Young. “When we watched first Irma then Marie pummel the USVIs over the past month, my Charleston friends and I who’ve lived in the islands were crushed,” she says. “I have friends down there right now who’ve literally been left with nothing. Their lives have been destroyed. We saw that, and just wanted to find a way to help.”

According to Cummings, living in a coastal community ourselves, there is a sense of responsibility to jump right in and help others who have been devastated by natural disasters. “We’ve been there. We know what it takes to rebuild and now we want to do whatever we can to help the Virgin Islands in that effort,” she says. “We are a local team of volunteers who love the Virgin Islands and want to do all we can to help our friends and families that have been left with nothing. We are working directly with a non-profit organization in St. Croix to get relief to those in need from our islands here in the Lowcountry to theirs.”

When Irma ripped through St. Thomas and St. John, Hurricane Irma was still a Category 5 hurricane touting wind speeds exceeding 185 m.p.h. And, while the damage state-side from the storm was severe, what USVI residents endured was devastating.

“People tend to forget about the tiny islands down there. As a beach community we know how important human kindness is in a time of desperate need. Virgin Islanders are resilient and ingenious, but this is extreme. This is much bigger than just the military or FEMA. We need to come together as a nation and bring the islands back to life. Folly Beach and Charleston have the power to help.”

“People are homeless, scared, and living in shelters. Our collection efforts are dedicated to one mission — to get them what they need to simply survive,” adds Cummings.

The goal of the upstart organization is to amass, organize, and deliver supplies that residents of the islands desperately need. The team, made up exclusively of volunteers, plans to accomplish a goal of raising both goods donated by local residents, along with online donations of $15,000, which they will use to purchase additional dry goods. The hope is to accumulate all donated items and fill a 40-foot shipping container with much needed supplies like batteries, diapers, and even power generators. Once full, the container will be driven to port and shipped directly to the islands for local distribution.

The campaign is a collaborative effort between local individuals, civic groups, businesses, and others. BoomTown, a real estate software company, is serving as the headquarters for the event, but they are by no means alone in their support. Even at this early stage, more than 30 Lowcountry organizations have already pledged support or signed on to assist in the campaign.

The fundraising effort has three component:, “donation stations,” set up at partnering businesses where area residents can drop off dry goods, a GoFundMe page where supporters can make an in-kind donation for the procurement of additional bulk goods, and an end-of-campaign fundraising event that will be a primary contributor to the group’s goals of raising $15,000.

“In addition to collection efforts, we are hosting an event on Sunday, Oct.  8 at CURE on James Island,” says Young, who is also a manager at the restaurant. “We will be hosting a family-friendly Caribbean-style event, as well as a silent auction, live music, and food and drinks for $20 per ticket, plus a donation item.”

Interested parties can learn more about LowcountryLOVEforVI by visiting the cause’s Facebook page at: at www.facebook.com/lowcountryloveforVI/ or their GoFundMe page at: www.gofundme.com/charlestonloveforVI.

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