By LEANDRA ROLLE
TEN Abaco taxi drivers will now have a chance to restart their livelihood on the storm-damaged island after being presented with new vehicles from an international nonprofit organisation.
One of them is Vernon Russell.
Having been a taxi driver on the island for more than 20 years, Mr Russell told The Tribune yesterday that “words cannot express” how grateful he is to be chosen by Stuart Sailfish Club Foundation for the opportunity to have his vehicle replaced.
“The best part about it is having it being done by people you don’t even know or have never seen or have never met,” he said.
“Everything I see as the Lord’s doing and all things work together for those who love Him so I know if He gave me the first (vehicle), He had something in the works for me.
“So, I just can’t thank God enough nor the people who He may use to get the vehicle for me and most of all Rocklyn Bootle, the one who acknowledged and remembered me as one of the persons (who lost their vehicles).”
The powerful Category Five storm, which devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September, flattened homes, businesses and major infrastructure on the islands, forcing thousands to be relocated elsewhere.
Mr Russell said he was one of those persons who left the storm ravaged island in the immediate aftermath of Dorian.
“I spent a week home after Dorian, but then I went to the US for a month before I came back home. Since the storm, I’ve been out of work and stuff like that. But, now I will get restart my livelihood again and work,” he said.
President of Stuart Sailfish Foundation, Charlie Conigliaro said after hearing about the devastation of Dorian, he knew he had to help the people of Abaco.
“We started this the day after Dorian,” he told The Tribune yesterday. “We flew tons of food and supplies, and we have our fundraiser and we raised just about one quarter of a million dollars to help us with our efforts and we brought over 535 mattresses.
“And then with the additional money, we said to ourselves well what are we going to do… We didn’t want to give cash to anyone, but we wanted to do what else we can to help.”
Mr Congliario said it wasn’t until an Abaco resident came up to him at an event and told him about the residents who lost their cabs during the monster storm that he decided he would help.
“So, we investigated and then we started a process of elimination,” he added.
“We started with 45 applicants and we wanted to make sure that the applicants we had were qualified and qualified meaning that they actually did lose a vehicle and that they didn’t get reimbursed from the insurance company and they lost their houses as well.
“…We flew out there a couple times to verify the vehicles and to make sure that these were legitimate people and they needed our help. So, with that, we narrowed it down to ten individuals.
“We paid for the flights to come out and we paid for the hotel and we paid for the bill and we held an event last Wednesday and there were 30 vehicles that they could choose from in the budget.”
He noted that officials are now in the process of finalising the paperwork to transfer the vehicles to residents on the island.
“We’re trying to get the government, which they agreed, to let these vehicles come in any event free and we have (someone) who agreed to pay for some of the freight and cost of the vehicles and, of course, our foundation is paying the balance.”