Grand Celebration, locals rally to aid Bahamas relief effort

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By AARON WORMUS
Palms West Monthly
Posted Sept. 28, 2019

“We are docked and safe in Freeport. Starting to sort and unload.” 

It was 9:45 in the morning on Friday, Sept. 6. Thierry Beaud, owner of Pistache French Bistro and The Regional Kitchen & Public House, updated his Facebook page as he had dozens of times in the past four days, updating his friends and followers on the massive ongoing Bahamas relief effort.

The mission was spearheaded by a group of downtown restaurant owners and friends, including Rodney Mayo (Howley’s), Eddie Schmidt (Table 26° Palm Beach), Julien Gremaud (Avocado Grill), Sean Scott (Subculture Coffee), Maurice and Rachel Costigan (O’Sheas Irish Pub) and Beaud, to name a few. 

Knowing the damage that Hurricane Dorian was inflicting in the Bahamas, calls went out to people who could help. Donations flooded in from individuals and other organizations.

The non-profit Eagle’s Wings Foundation offered warehouse space for supplies. World Central Kitchen sprung into action, using The Regional as a staging area to deliver hot food and mobile kitchens by plane.

Oneil Khosa, CEO of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, donated the Grand Celebration and its crew of 600 to travel to the Bahamas. While other cruise lines brought support to the Bahamas, Grand Celebration was the only cruise liner to bring Bahamian refugees back with them. 

But they needed manpower. Quickly.

“We urgently need volunteers on short notice to sail on the Grand Celebration tonight at 8 p.m. to the Bahamas, returning Saturday,” Maurice Costigan posted at 1:21 p.m. on Sept. 5. “No passport needed. Please just show up at the port at 7 p.m. this evening.”

Word spread fast, and by late Thursday afternoon 300 local volunteers committed to giving the rest of their week to helping the devastated islands. The volunteers included 50 doctors, 40 medics and eight firefighters from the West Palm Beach Fire Department. 

“We came up the escalator at about 8 p.m. and were shocked to see hundreds of people there,” Sean Scott recounted.

All together, the Grand Celebration carried 42 pallets of supplies, including 50 generators, 20 chain saws, 15 pallets of water and 10 pallets of food. The teams spent the next 16 hours passing out water, delivering hot meals, clearing debris and helping wherever they were needed. 

“Complete devastation, unimaginable,” is how Eddie Schmidt described the scene when they finally docked. “The people that we saw there felt like our friends, families, mothers, and fathers. They don’t have homes, no water, and nothing to take care of their loved ones.”  

Eddie added, “Word had travelled fast even with no cellphones that a ship was coming in and potentially could bring people back. They started to stand in line at 4 a.m., and by 2 p.m. 4,000 people were waiting. We could only take 1,100 back with us.”

There were more tragic stories about the absolute devastation that Hurricane Dorian brought to the islands. But each also included a message of hope.

“Our last mission, after hours, with some of our volunteers taking over 500 warm meals to Hudson Estates North, a neighborhood completely decimated by 175-mph winds and a 12-foot surge,” Beaud posted with a photo of a pickup basketball game. ”Not only delivering food but taking the time to play basketball with the kids.“ 

On the trip back, a baby was delivered on board, and the  facilities the ship provided far exceeded any that were available on the mainland. A gentleman coming to the U.S. had a heart attack. The captain was able to radio the coast guard and he’s alive today thanks to an airlift to the United States. 

“What Rodney, Thierry and this group of people pulled together changed the lives of many,” Eddie Schmidt stated.

The Grand Celebration has since completed its second trip to the Bahamas, and the team is working on how to provide lasting relief to the people there. The first two trips brought urgently needed aid, but aid needs to be supplemented with skilled volunteers to help rebuild the destroyed infrastructure.

The group’s goal is to raise $1 million which will fully fund the relief effort for a month. The organization put together a website, and a GoFundMe page, and at the time of this writing they have raised $577,534. 

To donate, go online to bahamasreliefcruise.org. You can also volunteer your time, donate supplies or host a displaced family. To find out what you can do to continue to help our Bahamian neighbors, visit bahamasreliefcruise.org.

Pictured above: In this picture posted on the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line Facebook page on Sept. 17, volunteers with Bahamas Relief Cruise distribute supplies and food to shelters and neighborhoods across Grand Bahama Island. Courtesy Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line

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