Bahamas Disaster Relief: South Florida
The Sathya Sai International Organization (SSIO) USA continued with its relief efforts in the Bahamas which was devastated by Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. At the start, the SSIO-USA National Disaster Relief Team (NDRT) undertook an exploratory tour of the destruction, to identify immediate needs and reliable local partners who could help them with their relief efforts on the ground. Through divine grace, they met two wonderful persons — Captain Joe Mazzarelli, who enthusiastically hauled the relief supplies by boat to the Bahamas, and Rev. Kenneth Lewis of the St. Paul Methodist Church in Freeport who helped with coordinating and distributing the relief supplies on the island. The Sathya Sai Center of West Palm Beach accepted the primary role of receiving, packing, and transporting relief supplies to the boat yard. An initial drive for relief supplies was held in October and approximately 400 sleeping bags, 300+ roof tarps, and 200 men’s and ladies’ hygiene kits were donated and delivered from Region 3.
Subsequent relief efforts accelerated when all regions of the SSIO-USA joined in donating supplies. From November 2019 through July 2020, NDRT coordinated drives across all ten regions to meet immediate needs identified by Rev. Lewis, such as dry food, children’s breakfast items, snacks, “Go Green” carry bags, canned vegetables and fruits. Local volunteers lent their warehouses to receive and store these supplies. Sai volunteers from the Sathya Sai Centers of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Miami Central and South Miami sorted, transported, and loaded supplies onto the boat on regular basis. Each week, donated items were packaged into more than 200 family packs and distributed to the hurricane survivors.
During the initial months of the relief efforts, hot breakfast was also provided for six weeks to approximately 100 children from St. David’s Methodist Church’s school and community.
The NDRT also organized a Christmas Toy Drive to spread holiday cheer to the children of Grand Bahama. Groups beyond the SSIO became sponsors when they heard of the toy drive through their Sai friends. Within two weeks, toys began arriving at the West Palm Beach receiving station and filled about 100 large boxes. Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) children from the Sathya Sai Centers in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach created large poster boards to accompany the toys, with messages of Hope, Peace, and Love.
Captain Joe Mazzarelli delivered the toys to Rev. Lewis in the New Year on January 2, 2020, where they were wrapped and distributed to 100 children in the school and community. Rev. Lewis expressed his gratitude: “We are so thankful to SSIO whose love, shown through these gifts of toys, brought joy and happiness to the children of our school and our three churches, St. Paul’s, St. David’s, and St. Andrew's. May the God of us all continue to bless this wonderful organization and its entire membership."
In March and April, South Florida news reported that farmers in the area couldn’t harvest their fruits and vegetables due to COVID-19 lockdown conditions, resulting in produce going to waste. Sai volunteers, sprang into action to salvage the produce. The farmers were contacted and they generously agreed to donate their crops. Miraculously, there were no logistical, financial and administrative hurdles. On April 17th, 2020, a shipping company retrieved over 20,000 pounds of fresh vegetables from the farms and delivered them to Rev. Lewis in Grand Bahama, who arranged for their distribution. God's Grace was felt throughout the project, making seemingly impossible things possible at the most critical of times. As of July 2020, supplies, in the form of water filters, food and toys, exceeding $75,000 in value, have been donated towards the relief efforts in the Bahamas.