Sending help to veterans in the U.S. Virgin Islands

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - It's been almost a month since Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean, followed shortly by Maria.

Many residents are still without power and basic goods.

About 100,000 U.S. citizens live in the U.S. Virgin Islands and thousands of those residents are veterans. Local veteran organizations are spearheading efforts to help those still in need as they recover from the destruction.

"Irma was really rough," said Army Veteran and St. Thomas resident Rebekah Rich. "I can't tell you how scary and terrifying it was having that storm on top of us, on an island especially."

Rich and her husband John watched not one but two monster hurricanes wreck their home.

"It really wiped out homes, hotels, businesses," said Rich. "You couldn't even see a leaf on a tree. It wiped out the island."

Rebekah and John are both Army veterans. Together they founded the non-profit organization Virgin Islands for Veterans.

"There's a large veterans population down there," said Rich. "Anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 veterans. At certain times they might think they are forgotten because we're so far detached from the mainland."

With the rebuilding process just beginning, Rich says resources on the island are scarce. Many people have been told they won't have power until Christmas.

Rich's sister-in-law Dianne, also an Army veteran, is doing what she can to help by collecting much-needed supplies.

"We need a community to help a community," said Dianne. "We're having veterans helping veterans rebuild their home and they're much appreciative of that."

Donated goods can be dropped off seven days a week at the American Legion Post 392 in Panama City as well as the VFW Post 2185 on Sherman Avenue.

"So when I found out there was 6,000 veterans on the island there, it was a much bigger deal than I had initially thought," said Jason Frigon the commander of VFW Post 2185. "Boy, I had no idea we had that many brothers and sisters down there living on the islands."

"The big thing is, they are our brothers and sisters," said Lamar Carroll, commander of American Legion Post 392. "They are veterans. That's the big thing. That's the most important thing that we are trying to do as an American Legion, we are veterans trying to help other veterans."

The Virgin Islands for Veterans is also hosting a Veterans Day fundraiser to raise money and collect items to send to the Caribbean.
That will be at the VFW Post 2185 on Sherman Avenue on November 11.