Stuart, Florida Area Sends Massive Outpouring Of Hurricane Relief Items

Residents of Stuart, Florida and its neighboring cities in a massive hurricane relief drive provided nearly 100,000 pounds of items to The Bahamas’ hurricane victims in Grand Bahama and Andros over the past four days. 

On Thursday, October 6th Hurricane Matthew plowed across the northern part of The Bahamas as a category four storm, packing winds of up to 140 miles per hour. 

Although Bahamians had heeded warnings and prepared, the force of the storm, while sparing lives, caused major damage and destruction to buildings, homes and electrical and communications infrastructure to New Providence, Grand Bahama and Andros Island.

Grand Bahama was one of the hardest hit, and with utility poles down, much of the island continues to be without power.

It has been predicted that power may not be restored for weeks.

Against this background, the residents of Stuart, Florida rallied to assist The Bahamas and donations have been pouring in.

Private pilots have been using their time, fuel and planes to drop off a wide array of relief items from tarp and generators to food, water and basic personal items.

The massive operation out of Stuart Jet Center is the brainchild of Joseph Rieger, the owner of Blue Marlin Cove in Grand Bahama. 

Mr. Rieger orchestrated the outreach through his many contacts in the area and the owners/operators of the Jet Center, Jeff Cappen and his brothers, donated one of their hangers for the staging of the relief efforts.

On Wednesday, Bahamas Minister of Tourism and Member of Parliament for West End and Bimini Obie Wilchcombe released a formal statement expressing gratitude to Mr. Rieger and the people of Stuart for all that they are doing.

 “It is with profound gratitude and appreciation as the Member of Parliament of West Grand Bahama and Bimini, that I extend my appreciation and gratitude on behalf of the constituents of West Grand Bahama to Mr. Joe Rieger of the Blue Marlin Cove in Bootle Bay,” he said.

“Mr. Rieger has tirelessly led a relief effort to assist the people by coordinating the collection of supplies, transportation and distribution to the community. Because of his efforts, a relief kitchen has been organized in West End. His efforts have also resulted in the preparation and distribution of relief packages. I am most grateful to him and his staff who have diligently and with integrity managed the process.”

Patrick Aldrich, one of the lead organizers on the ground at the Jet Center, said that when the project began organizers thought that they would only be sending out a few planes to assist. 

Mr. Aldrich said he never imagined that the operation would grow to such a large undertaking where planes are flying out throughout the day with supplies and donations pouring in rapidly. 

He said that the efforts began on Social Media and went viral.

“It just got blown up,” he said.  “People just kept sharing the information and even the media found out about it.”

Dozens of volunteers are being used to assist in the efforts, from school children to church organizations and others who simply want to just lend a hand.

The volunteers include persons from as far up north as St. Augustine, which was also hit by Hurricane Matthew last week.

When asked why he was able to assist with the relief to The Bahamas when his town was also hit by the hurricane, a donor from St. Augustine said, “Because we have Home Depot and in The Bahamas they do not.”

Jeff Capen also shared why he was so happy to assist with the relief effort for The Bahamas.

“I travel to The Bahamas and vacation there.  I have friends there and I wanted to help as soon as possible, because I wanted to be sure that the people who were affected by the storm were taken care of,” he said.

The volunteers over the past few days have included students from Treasure Coast High School Junior Air Force ROTC. 

The students have been helping with the unloading of donations as they arrive, packing items and loading them on planes for delivery. 

On Wednesday, the students were volunteering on a two-hour rotation and according to their leader some 40 would have assisted throughout the day

The group leader said that the young people are out of school for the day and was helping instead of sleeping in late and playing video games.

He said that it was all a part of what the kids are being taught at Treasure Coast High.

“Helping your neighbors is a part of being a good citizen.  We want our neighbors in The Bahamas to know that we are here for them,” he said. 

Another group of volunteers assisting is from Empowered Masters Commission, a bible college in Lake Wales, FL.

The operation at the Jet Center in Florida will be continuing through Friday, when remaining items will be taken down to South Florida to Seacor Island Lines, where vessels there will ship the reliefs to the islands.

Seacor Island Lines is a shipping company that runs cargo shipping to all of The Bahamas. 

Mike LaFleur, CEO of the company, said that they are working with private enterprises, foundations and individuals to ship relief cargo to the islands especially Andros and Freeport.  

Of the massive operation in Stuart, Florida, he said,  “We are really hoping to replicate this effort down south.” 

He added that his company would be assisting in relief efforts as long as needed because it has been operating in The Bahamas for years.

“We are a part of the community and we want to help our friends, our colleagues, and the businesses.”

When the relief operations in Stuart End on Friday, donations will continue to be collected in Fort Lauderdale at Seacor Island Lines, 1300 Eller Drive, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316.  Phone 954-929-9292.

Information on The Bahamas and all relief efforts can be found online at http://www.bahamas.com/hurricane-relief