Floridians consider the Bahamas their own backyard, so it’s no surprise that just 50 miles west of the islands, residents are responding to the post-Dorian call for help in big ways. A group of West Palm Beach restaurateurs and community leaders banded together with an ambitious goal: raise $1 million to sail relief missions between Florida and Freeport on a cruise ship.
The Bahamas Relief Cruise is a grassroots response to the devastation Hurricane Dorian wreaked in Grand Bahama and the Abacos. The collective effort by various West Palm Beach businesses — including Subculture Group, Titou Hospitality Group, the Downtown West Palm Beach Hospitality Association, Everglades Trust, Entrepreneurs Organization of South Florida, and Mission Resolve — arose when Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line CEO Oneil Khosa offered the Grand Celebration for humanitarian use. The ship runs a year-round route between the Port of Palm Beach and Freeport.
The first cruise departed Sept. 5 after just 12 hours’ notice to fill the ship with supplies and volunteers; a call went out in the morning and by 7 p.m., hundreds had gathered to assist.
“We all showed up at the port, bag in hand, little to no information,” Sean Scott, owner-operator of Subculture Coffee, shared in a Facebook live stream after participating in the effort. Scott is part of the Bahamas Relief Cruise organizational team. “We had no idea what the port shape was going to be. We had no idea who was going to meet us there. We had no idea if customs was going to be available. We just knew that the port said we could come and the deputy prime minister was going to be in contact with us. That was it.”
The initial mission delivered pallets of supplies to the islands and over 1,100 evacuees to Palm Beach County. Julien Gremaud, chef and owner of Avocado Grill, was aboard to lead culinary efforts. On the first cruise, Gremaud prepared and disseminated 800 hot meals; for the next, he’s readying 20,000.
“We were shooting for 30,000, but logistically, it’s going to be almost impossible, due to the size of the kitchen and all that,” Gremaud told Travel + Leisure. “I was able to get food donated for this mission through my colleagues, Cheney Brothers and Gordon Food Service. … We’re very thankful that they’re helping us in such way. Florida is really getting together the community, the businesses, to try to help our neighbor as much as possible.”
A second relief cruise departed the evening of Sept. 15 with manifold goals: serve 20,000 meals, dispatch a medical team into area hospitals and nursing homes, host two movie nights for kids, and rebuild a children’s home, humane society, firehouse, and church back to operational status — all within 48 hours.
With adequate funds, the Bahamas Relief Cruise can continue trips to Freeport to deliver supplies, food, medical professionals, and cleanup crews, and do so more efficiently than small planes or boats. However, these missions hinge upon increased financial support.
Subculture Group’s Rodney Mayo, instrumental in the founding of the Bahamas Relief Cruise, told T+L, “The more money, the more missions we can do. We’ll know a lot more after this one, but we’re definitely hoping to do another mission soon — within a week, if we can raise a little bit more.”
Each two-day mission costs around $700,000, Mayo revealed, with a small portion applied toward securing additional supplies, such as the fifty large generators they purchased at a discount from Home Depot. Mayo hoped to see funds from the governor’s office, the county, and the city of West Palm Beach, but none pulled through.
They’ve raised close to $600,000 privately, in addition to gathering volunteers and an abundance of supplies, but the Bahamas Relief Cruise implores the public to help fund future missions. They also need continued support from volunteers, especially skilled workers like medics, firefighters, and electricians, and are seeking local homes willing to host displaced Bahamians.
The Bahamas Relief Cruise isn’t the only aid effort by companies reliant on tourism to the Bahamas. Royal Caribbean committed $1 million to Dorian disaster relief and is matching every dollar of guest and employee donations to nonprofit partner Pan American Development Foundation. They’re also loading supplies onto their ships for direct delivery to the Bahamas. CheapCaribbean donated 100% of profits from Bahamas bookings on Sept. 17 and is matching donations up to $50,000 through Oct. 15.
“The temptation when you see all these relief efforts — you always think someone else is doing it, or someone else with more money than you, they’ll donate,” Scott told T+L. “That’s the one thing that’s a great big lie about disaster: that someone else is going to help or someone else is going to donate. … I just urge people not to rely on someone else to do it; it really does matter.”
To help the Bahamas Relief Cruise reach $1,000,000, visit here.