Storm-Born Nonprofit Hands Out Thousands of Water Bottles

A team of Love City Strong members give out cases of water to St. John residents at the Coral Bay Fire Station.
A team of Love City Strong members give out cases of water to St. John residents at the Coral Bay Fire Station.

St. John non-profit Love City Strong deployed its members to various locations on the island Saturday, handing out more than 28,000 bottles of water as part of its community disaster preparation ahead of the 2019 hurricane season.

“Some bottled water came into our possession and rather than let it go to waste, we decided, as part of our ongoing preparedness project all year long, to hand it out and tell some people about preparedness, and showing them the importance of stocking up on things that are critical like water,” said Ryan West, foundation administrator at Love City Strong.

St. John residents headed to the Coray Bay Fire Station and Estate Susannaberg, where the parking lot of Moses Laundromat was packed with vehicles even before 10 a.m., the scheduled start time. West and other LCS members unloaded the pallets, directed traffic and helped residents load up their vehicles, each getting up to two cases of bottled water.

“The response was incredible. Within a few minutes, all of the pallets that we brought to the sites were gone, which is great because it means we were able to successfully get the word out,” West said. “It also means people are thinking about, ‘OK, I need to stock up. I need to be prepared even this far out from hurricane season.’”

By the end of the day, Love City Strong had given out eight water pallets, each containing 120 cases. West estimates roughly 28,800 bottles of water or 3,800 gallons went out to residents on Saturday.

One pallet was split and given to the Department of Human Services’ Senior Center and the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Love City Strong, Inc. grew organically after the 2017 hurricanes. West and a group of friends, including his former boss Tenesha Keyes, sent out word to gather at Mongoose Junction after Hurricane Irma. The turnout was in the hundreds, to their surprise they learned that some residents thought it was a government meeting.

Love City Strong team member Joie Gerhardt waits to give away a case of water at the Coral Bay Fire Station.
Love City Strong team member Joie Gerhardt waits to give away a case of water at the Coral Bay Fire Station.

The core group’s frantic effort after the storms, to get a high-risk pregnant friend off-island, evolved into a massive evacuation effort that ultimately saw more than 1,200 residents safely off St. John in the course of a few months. The group coordinated with private charter companies in Puerto Rico and Saint Croix, as well as the V.I. National Park, to get residents and tourists off the island.

The group also helped emergency responders with supply distributions and held public meetings every day to relay critical information.

“Wherever we were needed, we were filling those gaps,” West recalled.

In December 2017, one of the group’s friends, a lawyer on St. Thomas, drew up the paperwork to incorporate them. The non-profit has since grown to roughly 40 people, including nine full-time employees and various contractors, all St. John residents, focused on different aspects of the operation.

“We’re always trying to employ St. John residents, and always trying to make sure we’re using local assets, and the reason for that is there’s so much talent on St. John that can be utilized as long as there’s the right person bringing everybody together,” West said.

The water bottle handout comprises a small part of Love City Strong’s disaster preparedness plan. LCS has also set up secure storage facilities in three strategic locations on St. John and assembled a road clearing team on standby in the event of a disaster. The group also waged preparedness campaigns for St. John residents they consider at-risk, and put together a “Go Team” that would conduct door-to-door wellness checks and supply distribution.

This year, the group will give away 1,200 tote bags with preparedness tools, including information from FEMA and VITEMA and such items as inflatable solar-powered Luci lights from MPOWERD.

The group’s water quality project, which began in 2018, also tested cistern water quality in 200 households on St. John and raised awareness on cistern water quality for residents they considered vulnerable, including seniors, low-income families, single parent families, pregnant women, and residents with disabilities.

According to LCS, a vast majority of the tests showed a high presence of E. coli bacteria, placing residents at a severe health risk. In 2019, the group received funding from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy to provide and install new UV and carbon filtration systems on 50 residential cisterns that showed continuous high-risk of contamination in the initial phase of the project.

The team identified a St. John plumber to perform the installations that are expected to occur within the next few days.

More information on Love City Strong can be found on its website.