Florida and Caribbean chapter provides boost to Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands face a long road to recovery after devastating hurricanes in September, but have been receiving significant help from many sources, including the Florida and Caribbean chapter of the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE).

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread fatalities and damages in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit particularly hard. Fatalities numbered at least 50 in Puerto Rico, where damages could reach $90 billion, and at least three on St. Thomas and nearby St. John, where damages are estimated at $5.5 billion. The SITE chapter has focused its efforts on helping the two islands, while recognizing the needs of other islands.

“SITE Florida and the Caribbean has often made contributions to assist with disasters,” said Jorge Colona, president of the chapter as well as director of group sales for Melia Hotels International Global Collection. “However, in this case we felt that since the Caribbean—our members—were affected by historical disaster, a direct assistance to a chapter member and their associates would be more appropriate, thus ensuring that 100 percent of the funds would be distributed.”

Colona announced the initiative in an email to members and friends, as well as 50,000 planners on the eGroup Communications database. The email quoted David Krech, an SFC board member based in St. Thomas, as saying “…Our people in St. Thomas have lost not only their roofs or homes, but also their jobs, and ultimately they have run out of supplies, and don’t even have water or electricity, or anything to cook with. It will take months to get electricity. They desperately need help!”

SFC started the initiative with $5,000 and by the beginning of November it had reached just under $25,000. SITE Global contributed $10,000, and the Southeast and Chicago chapters pitched in $5,000 and $1,100, respectively. Smart Meetings is donating 10 percent of sales from its December supplements. Individual donations tallied $3,340.

Donors also were able to donate such items as generators, 50-to-100-foot extension cords and camping stoves. By the end of October, the chapter had sent 20 generators and accessories to St. Thomas and 25 to Puerto Rico.

“With the key element being power, we decided to donate generators, power/extension cables and gas cans to the USVI and, later, to Puerto Rico. We have already sent and distributed our first container with these goods to St. Thomas, and we will be done with one last shipment of generators to Puerto Rico sometime this month,” Colona said in November.

The chapter planned to shut down its donations page at the end of November.

“We truly hope that we were able to make a difference with our members and our friends,” Colona said. “I would like to say a big thank you to all SITE members, friends and supporters that allowed us the opportunity to assist other members affected by this life-changing event. I’m also very proud of being a SITE member, as [members] quickly responded to assist other members in need.”

SITE Global is an organization of business professionals dedicated to the recognition and development of motivational and performance-improvement strategies, of which travel is a key component. It has more tha 2,000 members in 90 countries, with 29 local and regional chapters.

Others Who are Helping

In addition to SITE, several other organizations have helped victims of recent hurricanes.

The U.S. Travel Association (USTA) issued a statement saying: “Our hearts go out to those in Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands affected by the massive flooding and other catastrophic impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. While the road to recovery will be long, we urge the travel and tourism community to lend support in any way they can.”

The USTA recommended that donations be made to USVI Recovery, the Destination Disaster Recovery Fund or the Caribbean Tourism Recovery Fund organized by Tourism Cares, and United for Puerto Rico. Also, it noted that the One America Appeal campaign organized by five former U.S. presidents allows donors to assist those impacted by all three hurricanes, or direct their donation to a specific recovery effort.

The American Red Cross is accepting donations to provide shelter, food, comfort and emergency support for people affected by Hurricane Maria. Financial donations are being used to help people recover and get back on their feet in the weeks and months ahead.

Through late October, the American Red Cross, along with its partners, also served more than 1.5 million meals and snacks across six states to help continental U.S. residents affected by Hurricane Irma. The Red Cross also distributed more than 1 million relief items, such as diapers, bug spray, cleaning supplies, coolers and comfort kits containing deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste and other hygiene items. Red Cross volunteers have provided more than 51,900 mental health and health services to support and care for those affected across six states.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Red Cross also has helped Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by serving more than 622,000 meals, distributing more than 906,000 relief items and providing more than 14,500 mental health and health services.

Also, U.S. corporations have made contributions totaling about $225 million in the immediate aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and $24 million after Hurricane Maria.

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