GIVING BACK: Oakland A’s starting pitcher Jharel Cotton of St. Thomas helps out the less fortunate at My Brother’s Table in Charlotte Amalie after Hurricane Irma.
[wpedon id=”23995″ align=”left”]
OAKLAND — Several weeks before his wedding, Oakland Athletic’s starter Jharel Cotton and his fiancee went on a trip to the Virgin Islands, but it was not a luxury pre-honeymoon cruise.
Cotton returned to his childhood home, St. Thomas, to assist with disaster-relief efforts in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Cotton and Emma Supanich traveled to Charlotte Amalie on Oct. 10, and spent their time on the island helping to distribute food through My Brother’s Workshop, a charitable organization that provided disaster relief in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
“It was crazy driving around,” Cotton said by phone from his offseason home in Michigan. “There were lots of houses with no roofs, people trying to patch them up with anything or just using tarps. Everything was torn apart, the streetlights weren’t working, electricity was limited. The hotel we stayed at was the only one operating, and they were holding it for people who were working on relief efforts and for relief organizations.”
Cotton visited his uncle, Franklin Victor, who had a little water damage. But he was unable to go see his father, Franchette, on Tortola, the largest and most populated of the British Virgin Islands that is accessible only by boat.
Cotton missed the one boat to the island, then drove to the other side of St. Thomas to try catch the same boat and missed it again. Cotton did get a generator delivered to his dad and big sister, LaToya, however.
“My dad had lost part of his roof and he was living in the living room,” Cotton said. “Things are much better now. It’s coming back fast. I love my people, they’re great. The day after the hurricanes, they started cleaning up, cleared the roads and moved downed electrical lines so by the time help came, there wasn’t as much to do. They took care of themselves.”
Hurricane Irma hit the Virgin Islands on Sept. 6 as a category 5 storm. Maria hit 13 days later with similar force. For comparison’s sake, Maria hit Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane, and Irma skirted Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.3 million, has dominated the headlines, even though the devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands was just as severe, leaving five dead and much of the territory without power or drinkable water. The population is just 103,000, however, so the area is often overlooked.
“No one talks about it, but we got really messed up,” Cotton said. “It’s a little frustrating.”
One other problem for the Virgin Islands — Puerto Rico “is like our mainland,” Cotton said. “That’s where we go for things. We need Puerto Rico to be stable and back to being the top dog again.”
Cotton, who spent his earliest years in the British Virgin Islands, moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands when he was 12 to live with his uncle after the death of his mother, Jacqueline Victor Jones.
He set up a GoFundMe.com fund for hurricane relief after Irma hit, wiping out entire towns, including the one in which his father lives on Tortola. Cotton raised $12,050, which he gave to the Community Fund of the Virgin Islands (CFVI).
His fund is closed now, but Cotton speaks highly of the work My Brother’s Workshop is doing, along with the CFVI. The best thing people could do to help the territory, though, might be to visit and spend some of the all-important tourist dollars that are missing, costing many people on the islands their livelihoods.
“It’s coming back to normal, and if you like white sand and blue water, it’s perfect for you,” Cotton said. “It’s so clear, you can see your feet on the bottom of the ocean.”
Cotton, who was married Nov. 11, is now back at work getting ready for the season.