Along with residents and businesses, non-profit organizations on St. Thomas and St. John report they are having a difficult time staying viable during the coronavirus shutdown and resulting economic downturn. The northern Virgin Islands also suffered the most damage during the 2017 storm season and are hardest hit now by the blow to tourism, the islands’ main industry.
Not only do charities provide social services for the most vulnerable populations, but they also guard and preserve culture.
The Family Resource Center
The Family Resource Center (formerly the Women’s Resource Center) is a social services agency on St. Thomas that provides counseling and shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The facility has been open every day during the pandemic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“We have people who need our services because we are essential,” Anya Stuart, director, said. “We pray and provide the services we can.”
Senior citizens also benefit. Food has been collected and distributed since the 2017 hurricanes and now sanitizer and masks are being provided.
Stuart said the non-profit is getting by financially and the dozen staff members are being compensated on time. However, the future is not guaranteed. They have had to cancel the sexual assault march, the annual Peacemakers Gala and are using social media campaigns and grant applications to increase funding.
Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands
Community foundations provide a multitude of services and serve as fiduciaries for other non-profits that also provide essential programs. Foundations frequently qualify for national grant funding.
The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, based in Charlotte Amalie, recently received funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities. CFVI also supports organizations that provide social services related to mental health, education and agriculture.
Currently, CFVI is funding four of the larger local organizations that, through the American Red Cross Rapid Response Fund, provide aid to their clients for hurricane recovery/rebuilding and COVID-19 relief.
“I cannot think of any organization that hasn’t been impacted by COVID,” Dee Baecher-Brown, CFVI president, said.
With the shutdown, the CFVI’s workload has increased because there is more need. According to Baecher-Brown many staff members work remotely. Everyone has been paid and there have been no layoffs.
Baecher-Brown said in the near future there will be grants from the National Outreach for the Humanities available for V.I. humanities and cultural organizations to access operational funds. Applications will be available through CFVI.
The St. John Community Foundation
The St. John Community Foundation works in much the same way as CFVI – regranting funds from larger foundations to those in need.
Since the 2017 storms, they have focused on hurricane rebuilding and recovery, especially for seniors, via a FEMA grant. Within three years, they will have retrofitted 97 homes to withstand wind and debris. Work will restart to finish the last five houses soon, according to Jon Eichner, interim executive director.
Since social distancing prohibits crews from working on homes with residents, the foundation has been working to provide cloth face masks, hand sanitizer, medication and food to seniors.
More than 160 bags of groceries are being delivered each week by Dial-a-Ride driver Dean Thomas. For the last 15 years, Thomas has been driving seniors to appointments, delivering medications, food and even cooking breakfast or giving a haircut when he’s asked.
“As our population ages – over 60 percent are senior citizens [on St. John] – we need more focus on the community and to give them the support they need,” Eichner said.
The St. John Community Foundation relies heavily on grants and also uses social media to raise funds. So far they have been able to pay all staff and vendors, without laying anyone off. The annual fish fry, usually held in November is more to bring the community together than bring in donations, Eichner said.
The Humane Society of St. Thomas
The Humane Society of St. Thomas has cared for more than 100,000 animals over the last 60 years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the organization has streamlined staff and work schedules.
There does not seem to be an uptick in animals needing shelter and more volunteers are showing up to help. Brianna Burks, manager, said she thinks there may have been an increase in adoptions since the shut-down.
“We are very appreciative of the community support and how well the island and territory are holding together,” she said.
Even with three large transports of dogs to the mainland for adoption, the facility is full.
The Humane Society of St. Thomas operates independently from Stateside agencies and is responsible for its own fundraising. A March Paint-Your-Pet event at Tillett Gardens has been postponed indefinitely, Burks said, and she did not know about any upcoming events.
St. Thomas Historical Trust
On March 1, the St. Thomas Historical Trust closed its museum’s doors due to the pandemic. The all-volunteer organization has been active since 1965 running a downtown museum, renovations projects and walking tours for the public.
“It makes it really hard for us to raise funds,” Pamela Montegut, president of the trust, said.
The museum also was closed for a while due to damage from the hurricanes in 2017.
Fundraising includes a donation box in the museum, memberships, the Coal Pot Cook-off and an annual gala. The cookout draws a “huge crowd” and the gala is “the ticket to get,” she said.
Montegut said as the territory reopens, the museum and tours may open to small groups or families, but that will be up to the board of directors.
The Pistarckle Theater is a professional theater organization on St. Thomas. With the territory shut down due to COVID-19 in March, the season has been canceled and the STARZ summer camp is on hold.
According to Jada M. Lark, executive director, the first performance of the season – Death Trap – was scheduled to open one week after the territory was shut down.
“Pistarckle Theater is a major part of the community. It has been around 20 years and we would love to make 30 years and beyond if COVID, the economy and hurricane season allows us,” Lark said.
With no revenue in sight and billing problems with the Water and Power Authority, Lark said she has applied for grants and CARES funding to pay herself and the theater’s director.
She said if they can open the theater in August, September or October, it will take off some of the pressure.
The New Playwrights Festival, usually in May, may be held later in the year, Lark said. Usually, the readings are on stage before a live audience, but distancing rules may present challenges. She is looking at ways to livestream the event.
“They have a lot of time to write,” she said, adding playwrights can submit their work anytime.