‘The Island moved in a powerful way’

Martha’s Vineyard residents stepped up to help the migrants. 

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Migrant children leaving say goodbye to a new friend as buses leave the high school. — Abigail Rosen

When migrants arrived on Martha’s Vineyard unannounced with little way to help themselves, Islanders stepped up to the plate. In fact, so many Islanders came forward to help that it became necessary to start a volunteer waitlist. 

“It was amazing. This Island moved in a powerful way to help these people,” Lisa Belcastro, who runs the winter shelter, said.

One of the first places the migrants went to was Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.

“They were literally dropped off at our parking lot on Wednesday,” Martha’s Vineyard Community Services vice president of development, marketing, and communications Barbara Bellissimo said, adding that many of their staff and board members volunteered to help the migrants. Community services worked with the migrants after they were moved to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown. “Our team worked with them to get them what they needed, from cell phones to dental work.”

Belcastro, who runs the winter shelter, said she received a call on Wednesday, September 14, at around 4 pm from community services for help. She was the one who took charge of the volunteers when the migrants were moved to the church. 

“I think it just kind of happened,” Belcastro said when asked if she was selected to take charge. “It evolved organically … I just do the shelter, so I think it was a natural flow.” 

Belcastro’s experience volunteering at Houses of Grace for five years and the last two years with Harbor Homes, which is the fiscal agent of the winter shelter, prepared her for the migrants’ situation. She stayed at the church the entire time from Wednesday until it was “thoroughly cleaned” and locked up after “our precious friends” left for Joint Base Cape Cod on Friday

“It’s just part of life, being a volunteer,” Belcastro said, adding she is used to back-to-back shifts and “feels responsible” when there’s staff involved in a “critical situation.” 

A group that was essential for the volunteer efforts was Spanish speakers.

“Thank God we had interpreters to ask the more pressing questions,” Belcastro said. Although she is learning Spanish through Duolingo and has been to Panama for a mission trip, she knows “the smallest, smallest bit” of the language and could only ask simple questions, like whether the migrants were hungry or needed a coat. 

Some of the Spanish speakers who helped the migrants were teachers and students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS).

“It was great,” MVRHS principal Sara Dingledy said about the teachers’ and students’ altruism. 

Dingledy later said in an email “we are really proud of our students who helped through translation and donations.”

“Several of them were present from the start, having heard about the situation from parents or community members,” Dingledy wrote. “This situation has laid bare a fairly polarized country with regard to the topic of immigration, and how our federal and state governments meet the needs of those who seek opportunity in our communities. However, what I think about is the fact that so many members of our school community responded with simple kindness to make people feel comfortable, cared for, and welcome. To me, that is the greater message.”

Belcastro said the extra food and supplies were donated to local organizations on Martha’s Vineyard, such as the Island Food Pantry.

Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden, who was on the scene to guide the migrants at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services to the high school, said in a letter he was “drawn to a phrase” that described the volunteers who came to support the migrants: “beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” 

“The beautiful people in our private and public safety community sprang into action and responded admirably, not seeking public attention, only to pitch in and help,” Ogden said. He also took the time to recognize the numerous people who were a major part of the “response to the humanitarian crisis” and the many “unsung heroes” who helped. “Humanity is defined as characteristics that belong uniquely to human beings, such as kindness, mercy, and sympathy. The Island has expressed its humanity both in action and deed. I am truly humbled and honored to serve as sheriff of Martha’s Vineyard and as an officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Belcastro expressed “the most heartfelt thank you” to all of the people who came out to help the migrants while juggling their own lives and the local organizations who helped. 

“It was overwhelming, the amount of love and compassion that was poured out,” she said. “It was an outpouring of love. There are not enough words I have to thank the community … it made me cry happy tears.”

Rev.Chip Seadale of St. Andrew’s Church was not immediately available to comment. However, the church’s voice mailbox message thanked everyone who helped while the migrants were at St. Andrew’s Church and said those who wanted to make a donation for the migrants should directly contact Joint Base Cape Cod or the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. An event the church is hosting called “Calling All Angels” also invites “all the wonderful volunteers who supported our Venezuelan friends last week” to come together at St. Andrew’s Church sanctuary on Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7 pm for “prayer, reflection, gratitude, and visioning.”

23 COMMENTS

  1. It’s truly amazing to me how these people are patting themselves on the back yet have no recognition of the fact that what happened here was abhorrent. We failed as a community to actually deal with the problem and sent the problem on to another community. We failed to acknowledge this is a nationwide crisis and we will not do our part to help out. We act like 50 migrants were such an ordeal when communities much smaller than ours and far less wealthy are dealing with THOUSANDS of migrants every week. This was a shameful response and if you don’t understand that you have no soul.

  2. I honestly can’t understand how you islanders could possibly feel even slightly okay about how you dealt with the recent immigration “problem” on your island.
    You should be ashamed!!!!!

    • Why? Because we treated them with kindness and compassion? And when it became apparent we didn’t have the resources here to give them what they needed, with the help if our Republican governor, moved them to a place that does? And did at without lying to them about where they were going and why they were going. Is that way we should be ashamed?

    • yes, Nancy – the outpouring of support and volunteering to provide food, clothing, emotional and legal support and the arrangement for safe transport to the Cape where facilities were more accommodating is shameful !!! That should have been reserved for “illegals” from Norway or Finland !

    • I honestly can’t understand how you conservatives can continue to lap up the drivel and tripe that Fox News constantly spews. You think you know and understand what went on, but you don’t. Go do some fact-checking and proper research. MV didn’t move them off. Governor Baker did, without request from us. I will continue to defend the community of MV from the slander and libel on which this bogus narrative of hypocrisy is based.

    • Perhaps when the next cattle car is dropped off you can go down there and show us how to do it better. Sorry, we don’t have any McDonalds restaurants here..
      Maybe you could bring a box of “goldfish” , and it would all be better.

  3. These 50 brave people fled their own beloved country, because of the worsening deadly violence and social collapse, caused by decades of relentless, hard-core, military US interference in their politics, for the purpose of installing strong-arm dictators, who will do as the US says, for the purpose of clearing, paving and maintaining the way for US corporations to get in there, and proclaim their right to acquire, by hook or by crook, any farmland or mine, or forests, or water, and workers, and of course the immensely profitable drug trade, in order to produce the immense profits they promised their shareholders – and, pft!, never mind whatever harm comes to the people and the lands and rivers around them – their first and only top priority and responsibility is to maximize the profits for the shareholders. Just business as usual, right?
    And this is of course what the US has been doing for a very long time, and is still doing – what is it now?: 750 US military bases in 80 foreign countries around the world – and roughly 280 warships and 72 submarines ready to destroy whatever gets in the way of maximum American profits. And, of course, we, the American people, with our gluttonous addiction to ever cheaper stuff, and ever-higher profits – and never mind the horrible consequences for the people in all those other nations – we are the happy collaborators in this cruel inhumane scheme.
    So – for these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that the US owes all these refugees big-time, owes them all the help they need in order to get back on their feet, in this country.

    First of all, provide comfortable, safe centers (military bases around the country are perfect) for these people to land, where they can stay in safety and comfort, with all the health care, food, clothes, toys, e-tech and everything else they need immediately, all for free of course.
    While they also get the help they need to find their way to legal status, good housing, jobs, health care, schools etc-
    I imagine small villages, built around places that have the space and industries to accommodate a new village and more workers – with enough land to grow food and plenty of space for wildlife – with quick-build homes assembled and installed in weeks, 100% electric solar/green/clean houses, fully equipped, ranging from small for singles, to large enough for whatever number of people who would like to live together –
    This is the least we can do for these people whose lives have been destroyed by U.S. policies. Anybody interested in discussing this and helping formulate such a plan?
    And finally, I also want to voice my strong objections for those who use the words “kidnappers”, “criminals”, “inhumane” “human traffickers”, “lured these 50 people with lies” to describe the heroic people who rescued those suffering refugees. Shame on you all for your disgraceful disregard for what was best for them.
    Please ask yourself just one question: would you rather stay in overwhelmed crowded dirty shelters in Texas, or would you prefer to be flown for free to Martha’s Vineyard, one of the many welcoming communities around the U.S., where you will be safe and will receive the help you need to set up your new life – which would you choose? Right, and that’s exactly what they chose, and exactly what they got. Amen.

    • I don’t think anyone objects to the migrants coming to the island. We wanted to support them and we did, before the state quickly stepped in and took over. We object to the Republican governors who lied to those people and told them that we would provide them with jobs, housing, food, clothing etc. There are indeed plenty of jobs to be had on MV, but not housing. We object to those same governors giving those people fake addresses and doing everything possible to hinder their right to apply for asylum. What has to happen is a change in foreign policy. Border walls without other actions are an avoidance of our responsibility to the cultures and nations we have done unspeakable harm to. We must route the dictators and violent cartels, and we must help them rebuild.

    • Anna-I have to disagree with you on many of your points about this whole incident.
      I will agree that these people are much better off in Massachusetts than on the streets of Texas.
      But that is about it.
      While the end result is that these people have found a better place with more opportunities, the methodologies to accomplish that are indefensible.
      We are a country of laws and procedures.
      Gov. Desantos apparently violated many laws to gain political points for his presidential aspirations in this obvious political stunt.
      He used federal funds that he received for covid relief for this .
      He only informed Fox “news” that this was transfer was happening, and literally dumped these people on the tarmac of an island most had never heard of, And to be filmed by a right wing camera crew. I am certain we will see some heavily edited footage of their arrival here during the 2024 presidential campaign.
      He promised them jobs, medical care, housing, food and just about anything else they needed to get them on the planes.
      It was all lies.
      By legal standards, I believe there is cause to at least investigate this.
      His motivations were not altruistic.

      Also, your opinions about what has caused the crisis in Venezuela do not seem to be accurate.
      Indeed many U.S companies abandoned Venezuela During the Chavez regime.
      I can find no high level U.S politicians of either party that has supported Chavez or Maduro.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_in_Venezuela
      I can find no evidence of any interference in the country to get either Chaves od Madors into office. Certainly, there was no military involvement.

      Indeed. if anything, the crisis was exacerbated by sanctions imposed by the trump regime
      against not only Venezuela’s ruthless rulers, but against their oil industry, crippling an economy that was already struggling.
      The U.S obviously played a role in this crisis, but not in the manner you imagine.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_involvement_in_the_Venezuelan_presidential_crisis#:~:text=In%20December%202019%2C%20Secretary%20of,using%20military%20force%20are%20significant%22.

      I am quite supportive of the efforts to get more of these destitute people into Massachusetts. I am certain the great majority of them will contribute to our society and make it stronger.
      I just don’t want tinhorn Governors ignoring procedural and financial laws.

    • I find the concept of “virtue signaling” interesting.
      It seems to only be mentioned by conservatives who are trying to be virtuous by saving the unborn from their murderous mothers, being virtuous by telling us all tabot how their god is the only source of morality, being virtuous by espousing “family values”, being virtuous by fighting against all the evils of homosexuality, gender identity,pornography, prostitution and any other sexual activities them deem inappropriate, being virtuous by making sure no white kids ever feel uncomfortable about the historical atrocities of slavery, and most of all being virtuous about how they are true patriots defending the United States of America from all those “dirty” illegals coming in and trying to replace us.
      An orgy of virtue signaling all right.
      The next time you talk about virtue signaling you should take a look in the mirror.

    • An orgy of false narratives of liberal “hypocrisy,” stemming from scant research on the issue and a lying right-wifg media.

  4. I just emailed Sean Hannity via his web site and asked him to make the distinction between the people of Martha’s Vineyard, who ARE Martha’s Vineyard and who immediately stepped up to do all they could to feed, shelter, and support 50 unexpected illegals and the wealthy liberals whom conservative talk show hosts are castigating for not having taken them in despite having large vacant houses, etc. I’m a Conservative. I get tired of liberals castigating Fox News, but occasionally Republicans and Conservatives do get it wrong, and what they got wrong this time was not bothering to find out that there really is a housing crisis on Martha’s Vineyard and that there really is not enough shelter and work for 50 extra people on an island where the hospital is trying to operate with 25 per cent of its necessary staff positions vacant and having offered 90 doctors, nurses, et al. jobs in January every one of whom declined — who would not want to live and work full time on Martha’s Vineyard — because of the lack of affordable housing, and where a nurse had to leave because the rent on her one-bed-room apartment suddenly doubled from $3K to $6K per month, and where there is a shortage, as I’ve also read in the island’s papers, of teachers because of the lack of available housing. Journalism has been in
    decline ever since Watergate, and more and more the proper amount of research is not being done before opinion is presented as fact. In essence, Governor DeSantis and the conservative
    media are on target, because it was the wealthy liberal contingent who have helped to create the housing crisis on the island by deciding to move here and consider it a liberal enclave, with houses that stand vacant most of the year, who in large part did not step up to make sure that the migrants were fed, sheltered, and made to feel welcome. Some had already left after their summer time here; none, as far as I’ve seen reported, offered, from wherever they were, to take them in. But the constant references to the island having said not in my back yard and sent them away are wrong and deeply insulting, and portray the island as the opposite of the caring community it just proved itself to be. The Governor knows his own state and made sure
    that the illegals got to where resources are more available for them, and he’s getting slammed too. I hope the island receives the apology it eminently deserves.

    • I get tired of conservatives who repeat lies they hear on Fox when they insist on calling the migrants seeking asylum, “illegals”. When one lies in their first sentence, everything that follows is utter garbage.

    • Thank you, Lianthe. It has been said many times by many people: landlord is not an honorable profession. I’d say the housing crisis isn’t necessarily being causes by the wealthy so much as it is the tourist industry. The draw to this place is what creates value in its real estate. That’s a pretty generic way to describe what’s going on here, obviously. More specifically, what draws people to this place is its aura of fame and its natural beauty. But for others, it is the community, and that’s why this place is important to me. That said, it sure is not what it used to be, and it’s a shame we didn’t do a better job of protecting ourselves from the rot of greed. While many wealthy people do reside here seasonally, the wannabe-rich folks buying up properties to quickly convert them into AirBnBs and then cram them full of as many renters as possible (for $1000/night or more per unit), are more the problem, in my view. They are driving the values to skyrocket at ludicrous rates and are thus artificially inflating the market. Those who have the money will spend it. They want to be here, perhaps for a chance to be seen with some celebrity, or perhaps because of Jaws, or some other mainstream attraction-factor. Those who rent out those units to people are not here to experience the chaos they are creating for everyone who lives here. It’s not right, and it’s not fair, but how do we change it? The rental units for year-rounders are disappearing, and the housing model has to change or we aren’t going to have anyone working service jobs- and with that will go the tourism, then the property values. Businesses are going to have to buy up houses and apartments to house their staff. They’re already doing that, but not enough are and not all of them can. This economy is eating itself alive, with no signs of stopping.

    • One point of fact among your conservative narrative, the migrants are not “illegals”. Can’t imagine where you got that lie from, if not from Fox News. Immigration status of those seeking asylum is not considered illegal, except by people like Hannity who tell and repeat the same old lies.

  5. Some of the migrants wanted to stay here. Why did you kick them out after 2 whole days! You poor volunteers must be exhausted. Where is the wine and cheese, quick! THAT is what the whole country is laughing about. 2 WHOLE DAYS. Thankyou Gazette for trying to smooth this over,, community minded as usual. It was a wonderful response, no one denies that.

    • bob–there is nothing preventing any of these legals from coming back to the island today.
      None of them were forced to leave. They were told the honest truth about their situation, and what was available to them in terms of assistance.

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