As word spread on Martha’s Vineyard Wednesday that more than 40 migrants had been flown to the island unannounced, residents sprung into action. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School dismissed a group of AP Spanish students to help translate. A boutique hotel delivered a bundle of guest amenities. Restaurants supplied mountains of food, free of charge.
In the political fight over immigration and the crisis at the border, the Venezuelan migrants were pawns. Here, they were people, tired, hungry people who needed help.
“If we can help humans, we’re going to help humans. I don’t really care how or why they’re here,” said Jon “JB” Blau, whose Edgartown restaurant, Sharky’s Cantina, planned to send a heap of vegetarian and meat-filled burritos and other items for dinner Thursday. “They were lucky they were sent to a place that has lots of people who care.”
At first, Tim Dobel felt somewhat helpless. The migrants’ needs for shelter and medical attention, not to mention the immigration politics that landed them on the island, were well beyond his control. But he and the staff at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven could make sure they had a hot cup of coffee to keep them warm.
“These people are so exhausted and feel used by the people that sent them here,” said Dobel, who co-owns the Vineyard Haven coffee shop. “It’s the least we could do.”
Dobel said it was after closing Wednesday when he and his staff stepped up. His daughter, Casey Engley, who is six months pregnant, fired up the brewers, filled a few cartons of fresh coffee, and delivered it to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, where the migrants had settled in for the night.
Dobel dropped off a second batch early Thursday morning, where medics had already arrived to evaluate the migrants’ health. Boxes of pastries had been dropped off and breakfast sandwiches were on the way.
“The Vineyard really steps up,” he said. “It can seem sometimes a little chilly down here, but the people who live here are very warm-hearted and take care of one another and people in need.”
Facing what elected leaders called “a cruel ruse” and a “shameless political stunt,” everyone from teachers to store clerks to retirees banded together to assist the migrants. Danny Segal, owner of Edgartown Pizza, received a phone call from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday asking for 10 extra-large pizzas.
He wasn’t sure who the order was for — only that there were dozens of people, including children, in sudden need of food. So he offered the organization the same steep discount he gives schools and nonprofits.
It was only later that Segal learned about the extraordinary circumstances unfolding at the church down the street.
“Had I known I probably wouldn’t have charged anything,” Segal said. “Edgartown Pizza is here to help. That’s what we do.”
Cecilia Brennan, who works at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, has been helping the migrants since they landed, and called the response “a real community effort.”
Brennan said a number of restaurants like Segal’s offered to supply food, and the Island Food Pantry coordinated efforts to donate provisions.
Polly Toomey, owner of Among the Flowers Cafe, said she and her staff delivered quiches and fresh fruit Thursday to the church, where organizers were “overwhelmed” with donations.
On Friday, she’s planning to bring even more quiches, along with “french toast bakes” and other breakfast goods.
“I hope people would do that for us, too,” Toomey said.
At Tony’s Market, a local grocery store, volunteers stopped by to pick up coffee, hot chocolate, and milk on the house. General manager Kelly Hill said the deli counter was also on standby to make sandwiches if needed.
“We want to rally behind these people who kind of arrived in the middle of nowhere,” said Hill. “We’re just going to pull together to see what we can do to get them to a better situation.”
Sean Ready, owner of Edgartown Meat and Fish Market, said he had been on the phone with the Red Cross, offering whatever supplies might be needed.
“We’re just waiting to see if they need anything,” Ready said. “It’s a small community here, so we’ll see what we can do to help.”
Outside the church where the migrants were staying, a steady stream of cars cruised down Winter Street to drop off food, clothing, and other supplies, or to help with translation.
Rob Donovan showed up with a $100 check to Martha’s Vineyard Community Services.
″We love that they’re here, and I guess what we’re doing is making a political statement back at Ron Desantis,” he said of the Florida governor who said he was responsible for sending the migrants to the wealthy island retreat, the latest such protest against the Biden administration’s immigration policies. “This is what we’re going to do to show people they’re welcome in this community.”
Wesley Doyle, general manager of Vineyard Square Hotel and Suites, dropped off a box of toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, “and all the amenities we usually give our hotel guests.”
Maria Sanchez Roa, a senior at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, was in her room Wednesday “ignoring homework” when her mother came in and told her the migrants had arrived and Spanish translators were needed.
When she arrived at the church, she had “no idea” what she was supposed to do. But she started speaking with the migrants “to help them along and help them feel more comfortable.”
”I’m glad that I can communicate and be an outlet, and help them express what they’re feeling and be there to talk to them and support them,” she said. “Every once in a while it hits me, you know? I’m here to help these people and help them have a nice time.”
Lisa Belcastro, director of the Winter Homes homeless shelter, said they’ve gotten more community help than they can handle. Outside the church, around a donation drop-off and volunteer sign-up table, residents asked how they could chip in.
“I think we’re pretty covered,” one volunteer said.
Spencer Buell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him @SpencerBuell. Brittany Bowker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @brittbowker and also on Instagram @brittbowker.