The boxes and bags burdened his arms, but Aram Bethel knew he had to push on.
Boxes stacked almost to the warehouse roof. Bags so heavy with supplies the straps dug into the skin.
Bethel was working at Panama City Yellow Cab, which had been turned into the collection site and starting point for Bahamas relief. “I’ve been here nonstop doing this three to four days now,” Bethel said between sorting donations. “Helping to sort stuff out, get it shipped to the Bahamas.”
Yellow Cab of Fort Lauderdale has also stepped in, offering its NW Seventh Avenue facility for storage. Fort Lauderdale fire stations were originally taking donations. However, due to the momentous show of support, all 13 stations ran out of storage space for donations. They’ve also partnered with Tropic Ocean Airways.
Yellow Cab employee Ken Lorden helps with the effort. “We’ve helped with Maria when they hit and I’ve been donating my time except for … Saturdays to make this a big family effort to do what we need to do,” he says. “To keep the wheels turning.
“We’re more of the middle man but these eight-seater floatplanes are being boxed up and wrapped up and sent. But they’re overwhelmed and we’ve done some stuff with the Port of Miami, we’ve gotten schools involved, and we have an outpouring of support.”
It’s now been more than four months since Hurricane Dorian did catastrophic damage to parts of the Bahamas. In the immediate aftermath, people in Florida and beyond came together to offer aid to the people of the decimated islands. But now, people and organizations are looking beyond those immediate needs to long-term renewal and rebuilding for South Florida’s nearest international neighbor.
Bethel, who works with the Bahamian government, wants people to know that tourism is an option for people looking to help Bahamians. “The Bahamas is 700 islands, and 16 major branded ones. We still have 14 that’re still open for business, and a lot of people can feed into our tourism,” he says. “Tourism can bring business that’ll go back into helping Abaco and Grand Bahama because no matter where you are, you can help rebuild and help out a community.”
In terms of direct donations, Lorden would like to see more tools that can help with the literal rebuilding process. Donations for those with physical disabilities would also help.
“Chainsaws, shovels (and) lumber are just some of the tools they could use to help with fabrication,” he says. “We also have a couple wheelchairs, walkers, and it’s good people are thinking of about those who need those items too.”
To be more eco-friendly, Lorden says reusable water bladders are useful instead of plastic water bottles that can lead to a problem later.
Clean water is one of the most important long-term resources for those recovering. Broward-based aid organization Food for the Poor has partnered with Water Mission to help. Water Mission uses a reverse osmosis system that can produce more than 30,000 gallons of safe water daily. They also have a smaller system producing more than 2,000 gallons of safe water each day.
“Water is a big one … we’re glad to have partnerships with (Water Mission),” says Food for the Poor executive vice president Ed Raine. “It’s good to see the switching to long-term effects,”
Food for the Poor operates in 17 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean but didn’t have much of a relationship to the Bahamas. When Dorian hit, that changed.
“The Bahamas is less than a hundred miles away so we started fundraising the very first day,” Raine says. “We jumped into action as soon as possible.”
South Florida has the largest population of Bahamian-Americans in the United States. Congressman Shevrin Jones, who has family in the Bahamas, has been promoting donation drives. Jones has also seen those in the Bahamian community work with the U.S. Department of State to get affected family members to South Florida. “The Bahamian community has been working to bring their lives back to normalcy and we’ve been in search-and-rescue mode,” Jones says.
Jones’ father, founder and senior pastor at Koinonia Worship Center & Village, Reverend Eric H. Jones Jr., has also been at the forefront of Bahamas aid. “We’re also working with a few other organizations like The Smile Trust foundation and we’re all just working well together and working internationally to help,” the elder Jones says.
Reverend Nathaniel Robinson has been at Greater St. Paul A.M.E. Church since 2006, and Greater St. Paul A.M.E. is receiving and personally delivering items to the Bahamas. The church has boxes up to the ceiling and a 40-foot container filled with batteries, clothing, food and medical supplies; they also have generators.
“We keep a list of everyone who donates and we went from 500 people who’ve donated to up to a thousand people now,” Robinson says.
“We’re absolutely in this for the long-term and the African Methodist Episcopal has a long history of helping people over the years,” he says. “We’ve provided relief to Haiti after the earthquake, places in Africa, India, and Puerto Rico after Maria.”
Greater St. Paul A.M.E. is thankful for the donations. However, Rev. Robinson wants people to know that some items are not as necessary.
“We don’t need things that can be plugged in like TVs, DVD players because these people don’t have any electricity or power,” he says. “Those are not necessities, and I’ve even come across a donation of a wedding dress.”