Art Saves Lives journey in assisting St. Maarten Post Hurricane Irma   

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PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten — St. Maarten was devastated by one of the strongest hurricanes recorded in history, which brought the country to its knees and at the mercy of those willing and able to assist in a very trying time. Art Saves Lives is one organization that stepped up to the plate immediately to assist the community of St. Maarten.

721 News spoke with Nicole De Weever of Art Saves Lives regarding the initiative undertaken by her and fellow St. Maartener’s living abroad to save St. Maarten.  Nicole told us that when Irma hit St. Maarten many of them living abroad felt extremely helpless and devastated over the wellbeing of their families and the community.

“We knew that with the magnitude of the disaster it was not going to be easy, but we came together in Harlem, New York to brainstorm about an effective plan of action to assist,” said Nicole De Weever.

Nicole together with Karleen Duzon, Nessa Baptist and Mercedes Kizzy Burgos came up with the idea collectively of creating an online registry through Walmart and Costco, which would be a part of a social media campaign to bring awareness to the needs of St. Maarten. Leslie Samuel in Michigan, Ruth Wigley in Tanzania and Ari Sutton were very instrumental in assisting us. They were all part of Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM Hurricane Relief Team. This group all collectively came up with a list of necessities, which the group was able to create by inquiring from people on the ground in St. Maarten. Essentials ranged from food to blowup beds.

In order for the group to have received these necessities they used social media, which served as an incredible tool to bring awareness to their efforts.

“We were able to use social media, social media served as an incredible tool to bring awareness to our efforts. Facebook and Instagram brought our various networks to the registries. Everything purchased online was delivered to my apartment in Harlem New York. There was so much support that there was literally not a space to walk in my apartment. We were also fortunate and blessed to have an amazing Hurricane Relief Food Drive in Brooklyn hosted by Nicole McCullum and Alana Eversley of Sure, Captivate Designs. Hot 97 Radio Station announced Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM efforts and also publicized the Brooklyn Food Drive on their Instagram. We had an incredible turnout,” said Nicole De Weever.

Various donors and organizations also came onboard to assist Art Saves Live #SAVESXM initiative. New York Knicks Tim Hardaway Jr. donated 6 boxes of clothing and shoes to students of Art Saves Lives a foundation as well as Island Hoops Foundation. Nicole further mentioned that Broadway producers Mr. Stephen Hendel, Mrs. Ruth Hendel, Mr. Steve Semlitz and Mrs. Cathy Semlitz paid for the majority of the shipping of the barrels and trunks to St. Maarten.

In addition to the above many more organizations assisted as Nicole shared with us. Nicole stated that Broadway Serves Organization served as the umbrella organization for Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM hurricane relief efforts.

“Through the assistance of Broadway Serves Organization, Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS Foundation provided funding for the rental of a Uhaul truck driven all the way to Miami in order for our barrels and trunks to be sent to St. Maarten through STMnv Shipping Company, and we were so grateful to Mr. Stanley Lint, Mr. Max Mella and the entire staff for their exceptional rate provided, said Nicole. Thanks to the Bardfield family for sponsoring gas and food on the 24hr journey and Carla Lopez Edmunds for the flights back to New York City after the long travel by truck.

Nicole is also grateful to Farai Malianga original Fela Broadway cast member and Dionne Figgins founder of Broadway Serves who drove all the way down to Miami in the Uhaul with her, without their dedication this would not have been possible Nicole further stated.

“I am extremely grateful to Dionne Figgins, Dana Marie Ingraham and Kimberly Marable of Broadway Serves for literally submitting a request to Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS Foundation without these organizations the Barrels would not have gotten to St. Maarten in the time frame they arrived. Broadway Cares also provided hundreds of t-shirts and hats which we included in our eco-friendly Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM bags distributed on ground, and Mr. Tom Viola, Mr. Larry Cook and Mr. Peter Borzotta of Broadway Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS was generous to not only provide the U-Haul but also brand new clothing from their Broadway Bares merchandise department, said Nicole.

Nicole was adamant of coming to St. Maarten personally with the goods donated. “The idea of getting the well needed goods to the people was one thing, but making sure I was on ground was extremely important, as we did not want to send the goods blindly without being part of the distribution process,” said Nicole.

Nicole was able to travel to St. Maarten via Guadeloupe, because at the time PJIAE was not open to commercial flights. She was extremely grateful to Cindy Muller and Skyler Muller for sponsoring her flight to Guadeloupe. Thanks to Ms. Sandra Venite the Director of the Tourism Board of Guadeloupe in NY and Willy Rosier General Director of Guadeloupe Tourism Nicole’s complete travel and accommodations were completely sponsored. Special thanks to Air Caraibes and La Creole Beach Hotel.

“Guadeloupe completely went beyond and above to help. I was also greeted on the airport with press and I give them details of our strategic plans once on ground with the Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM Hurricane Relief Effort volunteers. I am very grateful that they giving me a platform to encourage the region to help St. Maarten/ St. Martin,” said Nicole.

Traveling from Guadeloupe and approaching St. Maarten via Grand Case was very emotional for Nicole.

“As the plane was approaching St. Martin I was extremely anxious and nervous about what I would be witnessing. My heart ached to see the magnitude of the devastation. Passing the homes like hallow shells knowing that there were so many people that everything they have as well as the lost of lives. Knowing that there were so many untold stories and experiences of Irma silenced for a number of reasons beyond our control. There were no words to describe the feelings I experienced and I am still experiencing at the moment. Every time I eat a warm meal, turn on lights or running water I think of home. I think on how many people may not have the same privileges, which many could take for, granted. Today I have such a profound understanding of what it means to be grateful for even the simplest things in life,” said Nicole.

“Once Nicole was on ground she met with her volunteers regarding their plans in mainly being effective and efficient in their efforts. Once I arrived in St. Maarten I had a meeting with volunteers about our plans in getting to those underserved. Extremely grateful to Rudolf Davis, Stacy Ann Taylor, Xiomara Philips, Claudia Arrindell, Tyreke Arrindell, Paul Bell, Linda Cocks, Elsie Marishaw and Aida Weinum those mention were on ground distributing daily. Many volunteers stuffed hundreds of bags everyone were given the task to report back with individuals or families in the various districts that are in need. We delivered to people at their homes certain places cars could not even reach we climbed to. There were individuals that said our bag was the first help they received. We made sure to get to the elderly, the shut in and we had lots of baby stuff for mother’s and young children,” said Nicole.

721 News asked Nicole how was the experience from start to finish in getting this imitative started and brought to execution, and she had the following to say.

“The entire experience was definitely humbling and to be honest it had me very heavy hearted the entire time. Especially being on ground meeting the people in their various circumstances was hard. I felt helpless at moments, like whatever we had done was not enough. I felt like with all of our efforts to make this Art Saves Lives #SAVESXM initiative happen I left St. Maarten/ St. Martin feeling like we had just scratched the surface. There is so much more to be done and I know we will do much more very soon,” said Nicole.