Holiday spirit in the US Virgin Islands is as resilient as ever post-Irma/Maria. A shining example of this brotherly love happened a fortnight before Christmas this year in the tiny community of Coral Bay. The tight-knit town on the island of St. John was not daunted by ninety days without phones and power when it came to planning their annual holiday event. Organization was done the old-fashioned way, by group meetings and by visiting neighbors door to door.
In Coral Bay, before the storms, there were two main events beloved by the residents – one is old, Santa’s Visit to the ball field; and one is new, Bizarre Bazaar at Pickles in Paradise. This year, the two events were combined on December 9th. This simple choice to share a date and location was a brilliant stroke of togetherness. Combining the events was a symbolic step towards unifying the black and white communities who, in the past, gravitated largely towards segregated events.
Hundreds of presents poured in through Priority Mail and UPS from all over the world. The bounty nearly overwhelmed the volunteers who worked for many days until sundown to wrap the gifts for Santa’s sleigh.
The event’s chief organizer, Doctor Robert De Bonis, wrote on Facebook, “Thank you, thank you, to all my helpers. All of you that wrapped posted and helped collect gifts for our children. Truly a touching and overwhelming experience to see the joy and wonder in children’s eyes. You’ve all touched the heart of Love City.”
Bizarre Bazaar, an annual event started in 2014, is a fundraiser for the Coral Bay Community Council and related projects. In past years, the holiday bazaar featured up to seventy local artists showcased in massive tents behind Pickles Deli. Pickles was utterly devastated by Irma which makes Bizarre Bazaar’s continuation this year even more astonishing. Again, many hands made light work in restoring the community hub to a usable condition for the party, including the addition of an IrMaria Memorial Garden.
This year, no formal fundraising was held. Instead, the annual meeting of the Coral Bay Community Council was publicly held at the event, and the people of the community were invited to purchase memberships or to donate.
Smaller in size but enormous in spirit, this year’s bazaar hosted some 20 artists and included the usual food and music. There is still time to seek out hand-crafted gifts made by the Bizarre Bazaar artists. The Facebook group **Shopping with a Purpose, which was established specifically to support St. John artists and craftspeople, is a central marketplace where artists can post links to their Etsy and online stores and gift buyers can find one-of-a-kind island gifts. Buying holiday gifts from the Virgin Islands this year makes a difference to individual lives in a very direct way.
Santa’s visit was the highlight and event organizer, Robert De Bonis, donned the famous red suit. Dr. Bob, as he is affectionally known, grew-out his own white beard for authenticity’s sake.
Each child that visited Santa was presented with at least three wrapped gifts. Dr. Bob said, “I saw the light come on in so many children’s eyes!”
The many remaining gifts were distributed to the kids of St. John who could not make it to the event.
Former manager of Concordia Eco-Resort, Wayne Lloyd, wrote, “Santa Claus visited Coral Bay today. The generosity represented by the gifts he brought was astounding. I saw two young West Indian girls after the event and asked if they saw Santa. The younger one, maybe six years old, said, “Yes we did, and he gave me just what I asked for, an art kit.” The kids still believe in the magic. [sic] Thank you so much from ah we in Coral Bay for the magic of your loving generosity.”
Photos compliments of Wayfarer Gift. Visit the Wayfarer Gifts Etsy store and buy a gift that makes a real difference in the lives of St. John artists.
To donate to the Coral Bay Community Council, click here.