Martha’s Vineyard avoids being the center of political debate to focus on helping migrants

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When around 50 migrants unexpectedly landed in Martha’s Vineyard on Wednesday afternoon, community organizers said there was no time to think about the fact that their tiny island had suddenly been thrust into the center of a national political debate.

Instead, within minutes, they had rallied around the same goal: how best to help their visitors.

School buses were arranged to transport the group, space was set aside for them to eat in a cafeteria, and a church agreed to put them up for the night, said Karen Tewhey, director of institutional advancement at Harbor Homes Martha’s Vineyard. , a non-profit organization that helps islanders facing homelessness.

“They looked exhausted,” Tewhey said. “Someone had given the kids hula hoops, so there were maybe four kids outside playing on the grass and running around, and probably trying to stretch their legs after a plane ride.”

“We did what we normally do with the homeless population here, which is pull together resources to meet people’s emergency needs,” she added. “It happened very quickly. It was very impressive.

The migrants were sent to the island off Massachusetts without prior warning by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in what appears to be an escalation of a tactic in which Republican governors ferry migrants to liberal towns in order to protest the increase in illegal immigration under President Joe Biden.

Other leaders have sent migrants to cities better equipped to handle such influxes: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ferried migrants to Washington, while Texas Governor Greg Abbott ferried migrants to Washington, New York and Chicago.

Nonetheless, Martha’s Vineyard — a summer hotspot that’s only home to 20,000 year-round residents — has pulled it off.

State Representative Dylan Fernandes said the island quickly provided 50 beds, meals, a play area for children and offered health care.

“These immigrants were not greeted with chaos, they were greeted with compassion,” he said. tweeted Wednesday evening. “The community that comes together with water, food, interpretive assistance and resources to support these families represents the best of America.”

The arrival of the migrants was surprising, but the warm response from the community was not, said Danny Segal, owner of Edgartown Pizza.

He hadn’t heard of the last visitors to the island on Wednesday afternoon when his pizzeria received an unusually large order: 10 of his biggest pies. When he asked what the occasion was, “they told me it was for 50 people who showed up at their door, but they didn’t specify,” Segal said.

Believing they were for people in need, Segal gave them a discount. When he later found out who exactly the pizza was for, he wanted to help even more.

“That 50 migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard? It all seemed a bit strange,” he said. “But the fact that they are here and the community has reached out to help them? It’s almost expected.

The fact that they were here and the community helped them? It’s almost expected.

Danny Segal, owner of EDgartown Pizza

Rebecca Pierce, director of media and events at nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, which coordinated much of the migrant-welcoming effort, said organizers had been “absolutely overwhelmed” by Donations. They have received enough clothes and blankets, she said, but continue to accept financial donations.

“I don’t know why they were selected to come to this tiny little island, but it always seems to come together when needed,” she said.

The group spent the night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, and Tewhey said she expects them to sleep there again Thursday night.

In an interview with The New York Times, a migrant, identified only by his first name, said the townspeople had been generous, offering him a pair of shoes, among other things.

“I haven’t slept well for three months,” Leonel told the newspaper in Spanish. “It’s been three months since I put on new pants. Or shoes.

The migrants arrived at what is normally calm after the busiest season of the year for Martha’s Vineyard, when its summer population reaches around 200,000. When tourists leave, many jobs also disappear, Tewhey said, a concern for anyone looking for work at this time of year.

“The number of jobs is really reduced in the offseason,” she said.

But there are also upsides to come right now, Tewhey added.

“The weather is perfect, it’s low key, the sun is out,” she joked, “It’s actually a beautiful time to fall from the sky.”



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