Marcelino's Winter

Marcelino Jose Blanco: Photo by Susan Safford
Marcelino Jose Blanco reluctantly posing for a photo at a fundraiser dinner/dance in his honor Friday at the VFW Hall in Oak Bluffs.
Photos by Susan Safford

By Tony Omer - March 16, 2006

It has been a mild winter for most of us, but for Marcelino "Jose" Blanco of Oak Bluffs it has been the hardest winter of his life.

Mr. Blanco arrived here on the Vineyard with little more than his smile, and it is a big smile, about a dozen years ago. His native language is the Spanish he grew up with in his native Honduras. He has worked several jobs on the Island. For the last 11 years he has been employed part-time at Seaside Celebration Rentals setting up tents, and as a full-time bus driver for the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA) for almost six years. His VTA supervisor, Darren Morris, said, "He is a hard worker and a great guy who would do anything to help out another person. He would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it." His nearest relatives are in Texas.

Several months ago Mr. Blanco came down with an undiagnosed condition that left him gaunt and in the hospital in Boston. He lost so much weight that he had become but a thin whisper of his former athletic self. Several weeks after his release from the hospital, and still unable to return to work, Mr. Blanco missed the Tuesday Medivan he was scheduled to take to an off-Island medical appointment. At the VTA, Mr. Morris became concerned. Mr. Morris tried unsuccessfully to reach Mr. Blanco on his cell phone, and even went to check on Mr. Blanco at his second-floor apartment above a shop on Circuit Avenue.

Many friends and co-workers: Photo by Susan Safford
Many friends and co-workers showed up to support the cause.

Knocking on the first-floor door at the bottom of the stairwell Mr. Morris got no answer. He could see nothing unusual through the small lights at the top of the door, only the top of the stairs. Mr. Morris was worried and notified the Oak Bluffs Police. He met the officers at the entrance to Mr. Blanco 's building. They gained access to the entryway through another apartment. At the bottom of the stairs that lead to Mr. Blanco's rooms, in front of the door, on the floor, they found his emaciated frame. He had fallen down the stairs, where, according to the EMTs on the scene, he must have lain for two or three days before he was discovered. By the time he was found, semi-conscious, he had suffered frostbite and extreme dehydration. He was lucky to be alive, according to those who know him.

Mr. Blanco is now recovering, but still has a way to go.

Mr. Morris says that he and the VTA want to do "whatever it takes to help Blanco recover." And to that end, the VTA staff, led by Lauren Thomas and Patty Philbin, organized a fundraiser last Friday night at the VFW Hall on Towanticut Ave. in Oak Bluffs to help Mr. Blanco pay for his living expenses during his recovery.

The doors opened at 6 pm. Many donated food, including numerous entrees and a mountain of desserts, and others contributed decorations. Each table had a centerpiece of paper flowers made by VTA employee Heather Tilton's young children, Astrid and Lily. Seaside Celebration Rentals donated table linens and serving equipment. DJ TM Silva provided hip-hop and dance tunes, and a number of Island businesses donated items for a silent auction. At least 60 to 70 people paid the admission charge at the door to eat and support the cause.

By about 9:30, the laid-back, blue-collar VFW Hall was rocking to the heavy punk beat of the band Money Shot, a skilled foursome capable of playing a wide range of material. Fellow employees, friends, a contingent of Spanish-speaking friends, and a hard core of Money Shot fans kept the hall hopping well into the night.

Marcelino Blanco, needing a cane to help steady himself while standing but never without his trademark smile, made a point of personally thanking everyone who was there. When the Vineyard community comes together, even the harshest winter seems a little more hospitable.

If you would like to help, donations can be sent to Marcelino Blanco in care of the Vineyard Transit Authority, Martha's Vineyard Business Park (MVBP), Rural Route 1, Edgartown, MA 02539.