Marie Perkins, a chemistry Ph.D. student, returns home to the U.S. Virgin Islands at Christmas each year and celebrates the holiday at the islands’ Carnival Festival. This year, though, she’s expecting a different scene.
In a span of two weeks, the islands were hit by two Category 5 hurricanes—Irma and Maria—leaving extensive damage in their wake. Perkins said the southwest side of St. Croix, where most of her family lives, was particularly hard hit. Her junior high school, which sat on the southwest tip of the island, is gone. Hospitals on the islands have been identified as condemned. Most of her family members don’t have a roof over their heads.
“I do know about all my family on St. Croix and St. Thomas; all of them are safe,” she said. “I have yet to find out about my family in Puerto Rico. We are expecting that everyone is ok, but we don’t have means of communication right now.”
Perkins still intends to go home for Christmas this year. In fact, she’s already got her ticket. Before that, though, she is hoping to send a special package to the islands.
Perkins and Duke law student Elizabeth Tobierre (T’13, L’19), who also grew up in the Virgin Islands, are organizing a relief drive for the people of the Virgin Islands. They want to ship a 20-foot container of supplies to St. Croix. They are working in conjunction with Kurt Vialet—a St. Croix senator in the Virgin Islands legislature—Project ReVive Relief Force, and the Graduate Chemistry Council at Duke.
The relief drive will be held at the Bryan Center plaza from noon to 4:00 p.m. on October 12. Perkins and Tobierre are collecting supplies such as non-perishable food, clothing, baby products, personal hygiene products, batteries, and flashlights (see the complete list). They have also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the shipping cost.
Perkins is also looking to set up donation bins around campus. Departments and programs that are interested in housing a donation bin and a “Message of Hope” poster board in their common areas can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perkins said the situation on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is especially dire because the entire region was devastated.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are very interdependent on each other,” she said. “When St. Thomas was hit very badly with Hurricane Irma, St. Croix and Puerto Rico were the main source of relief until FEMA and federal aid came in. And then Maria came and destroyed both St. Croix and Puerto Rico. In our history as U.S. territories, all islands of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have never been devastated at the same time.”