Island salon gathers supplies for Brazil flooding victims

Donations for Brazil outside Talita Destefani Beauty Lounge in Vineyard Haven. —Hayley Duffy; MV Times

The owner of Talita Destefani Beauty Lounge in Vineyard Haven turned her salon into a temporary donation center last Thursday to collect clothes, shoes, and blankets for Brazil’s southern state Rio Grande do Sul, which experienced the worst flooding in 80 years last week.

“There’s no way to look at those videos [of flooding] and not feel anything,” said Talita Destefani, who’s originally from the state of Espírito Santo in Brazil, but has been an Islander for more than 20 years. She spoke to The Times Thursday while surveying donated bags that had accumulated at her salon.

Almost 150 people have died in Rio Grande do Sul, and half a million are displaced and homeless, news outlets have reported. 

“We’re on an Island, so it’s hard not to feel helpless,” Destefani said. 

When Destefani saw reports of the damage in the country’s fifth-largest state last Wednesday, she took to her 30,700 Instagram followers and asked how she could help. Besides monetary donation links, she was connected with Janine Lamenha, a Brazilian influencer based in Boston.

In a matter of hours, Lamenha, originally from Maceió, Alagoas, in Brazil, coordinated with volunteers from at least 15 towns across the state to set up their homes or establishments as donation destinations. 

From Uxbridge to Weymouth to Lynn, temporary donation centers were created to help collect supplies for those over 5,000 miles away. The donations are organized at four “triage centers” in Lowell, Natick, Farmington, and Stoughton, said Lamenha.

Within 24 hours, they received “tons and tons” of donations, Lamenha said. Winter in Rio Grande do Sul begins in June, so Lamenha has asked for donations to include winter clothes, blankets, and anything that can keep people warm.

Lamenha estimated that there are almost 200 volunteers across the commonwealth. “There are too many to count. People are taking time off their jobs, stopping everything to volunteer,” she said.

On the Vineyard, Destefani was one of them. She used her social media platform to tell Islanders that her salon would be open from 9 am to 7 pm last Thursday to receive donations of clothes and shoes for both kids and adults. She asked that bags be separated by gender and age group, and for shoes to be taped together.

Even though she alerted her followers only the previous night, she had at least 20 people drop off donations by 1:30 pm.

The bed and back seat of her truck was full by then, and even more waited to be packed outside her salon. “We might have to get another truck,” she said Thursday afternoon. When she arrived Friday morning to more bags outside the salon, they moved everything to a 20-foot dump truck.

In the end, Destefani received more than 100 bags of donations, she said.

Destefani was pleasantly surprised that she received donations not only from the strong Brazilian community on the Island, but also from those with no ties to the country.

“We have a strong community,” she said.

The trucks went to Boston Friday, May 10, then were offloaded onto one of Lamenha’s larger trucks before they went to Florida. And on Monday, a plane from Azul Airlines, a low-cost Brazilian airline, made available for donations from the U.S., flew everything to Brazil. The supplies were distributed by the Red Cross on the ground.

Lamenha hopes that they can continue to gather more donations and reserve more space on planes to continue to help.

As of last Thursday, they had three large trucks full of donations ready to drive to Florida; they’ll probably need four or five more to keep up with the amount of donations that have poured in, she said. They are also collecting funds to cover the cost of transportation from Massachusetts to Florida for the additional trucks.

“I’m very, very grateful to see how people are gathering forces to help those suffering,” she said. “We can’t even imagine what they’re going through, but I’m happy we can make a difference for our country.”

Meanwhile, in Brazil, the state experienced more rain and flooding over the weekend.


Follow the efforts of Destefani and Lamenha on their Instagram pages: @talitadestefani and @japaniinee.