November 20, 2017 - By Ginna Hall, Senior Writer, Visual IQ
U.S. Virgin Islanders were just beginning to recover after the devastation of Hurricane Irma when Hurricane Maria, a second Category Five storm, pummeled the territory just two weeks later. The storms downed power lines and trees, crushed buildings, and left 1.1 million cubic yards of debris blocking roads and ports.
A massive effort has been underway to help island communities and survivors put their lives back together ever since. Federal, territorial, local and private partners have worked around the clock to help restore functionality to the island. Here in Needham, MA, the Visual IQ team did our part to help.
Matt Schwab, Manager, Sales Operations & Salesforce Administration, organized the relief effort. Matt grew up sailing with his grandfather and he and his wife enjoy sailing in the Virgin Islands. He was heartbroken when he saw how many people were left homeless and the destruction of the beautiful coast.
“So many people have been devastated by hurricanes this year and are without food, water, or basic necessities to live. A good friend of mine lives on St. Croix. Her community has lost everything,” said Matt. “I have this attachment to the island and its people and this is the best way I could think of to help.”
Matt put out the call to his fellow VIQers and a week later shipped five boxes to his friend, Meghan Crowley, who set up a distribution center in the middle of Christiansted. A local radio station announced the location and help spread the word.
In all, Matt shipped over 300 pounds of supplies to St. Croix at the end of September. Employees donated cash and basic necessities including deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, new underwear, flip flops, clothing, tarps, batteries, baby supplies, candles, flashlights, stuffed animals, toys, backpacks, razors, and feminine care products.
In addition to employees who donated supplies, Heather Howe, Human Resources Director, shopped for items and Angela Cataldo, Office Administrator, helped Matt tackle the lengthy line at Fedex.
The supplies helped dozens of people get the essentials they desperately needed, including residents of a group home who were not able to stand in line. One woman had waited at the Red Cross for hours to get diapers and other necessities for her children, only to have supplies run out. When she found out Visual IQ had those basics, she broke into tears.
Stories like this one showed the group what a difference their contributions made. CEO Manu Mathew agreed, saying, “Thank YOU Matt for taking the initiative and for leading the effort to make this happen! Sincere gratitude to all those that contributed to this success!”
Sadly, the islands will need help for some time to come. FEMA’s Federal Coordinating Officer William Vogel said that although they are making significant progress, they have a long road ahead. The Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) hopes that 90 percent of the territory’s power will be restored by Christmas.
“Because of the generosity of all that contributed I can unequivocally say we made a huge difference. We were able to supplement the efforts of larger organizations like the Red Cross,” said Matt. “This was something special we should all be proud of. A big thank you to all that helped make this possible.”