VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO When Hurricane Irma barreled toward the Caribbean earlier this month, the roughly 9,500 residents of Vieques, a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, stocked up on water, food, and emergency supplies. Vieques was spared the worst of Irma’s wrath, but neighboring islands in the British and U.S. Virgin Islands were not so lucky. Infrastructure was destroyed, people were in need, and help wasn’t coming quickly enough.
Jillian Anderson, a wedding and event planner on Vieques, saw a problem—and in true event-planner style, she took action.
During and after the storm, Anderson and her family were staying with friends who happened to own a plane. They had seen reports of the devastation on other islands, and wanted to use their resources to deliver supplies that people desperately needed. “I asked the pilots, ‘Do you know where you’re going? Do you have clearance? Do you know where you can land?’” Anderson recalls. They didn’t. “Of course, as an event planner, I knew that they needed a solid plan.”
She called a friend who had previously worked on nature conservation efforts on Tortola, who put her in touch with the B.V.I. Department of Disaster Management, who gave her the number for the satellite phone at Terrance B. Lettsome Airport in Tortola, the only working phone in the entire facility. Christian Evans, a pilot and the plane’s owner, called repeatedly until someone finally answered and gave him clearance to fly and land. In the meantime, Anderson put the word out to the Vieques community on Facebook, and people across the island answered the call. Local residents and businesses donated hundreds of gallons of water, cartons of food, and boxes full of supplies such as flashlights, batteries, and diapers. Anderson also set up a GoFundMe campaign so that others could help.
While Evans was en route on his first trip to Tortola, the team got approval to transport evacuees off of the island. Anderson joined a Facebook group dedicated to post-Irma efforts in the B.V.I., letting the community know that a plane was on the way and could bring people to Puerto Rico. One such person was Claudia Reshetiloff.
Reshetiloff has lived on a boat in Nanny Cay, Tortola, with her husband and two children since 2013. After the storm, she sent a message to a few friends in the United States saying that she and the kids needed to evacuate but didn’t know how to do it. One friend directed her to Anderson’s post, and after a few exchanges, the Reshetiloffs were booked on a flight with Evans’s that afternoon.
“I had no idea of Jillian’s background when I first connected with her, but when I checked out her Facebook page and realized her professional background, it all made sense,” Reshetiloff says. “Her planning skills were impeccable and put to a heartwarming cause in this situation.”
So far, Anderson, Evans, and the team have delivered 4,500 pounds of supplies, evacuated 15 people to Puerto Rico, and raised almost $6,000 via GoFundMe, but there is still work to be done.
“We’ll continue to help for as long as we can,” Anderson says.