When about 50 migrants unexpectedly flew into Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, on Wednesday afternoon, community organizers said there was no time to think about the fact that their tiny island had suddenly been thrust into the center of a national political debate.
Instead, within minutes, they had mobilized around the same goal: how to best help their visitors.
School buses were arranged to transport the group, space was reserved for them to eat at a cafeteria, and a church agreed to house them for the night, said Karen Tewhey, the director of institutional advancement for Harbor Homes Martha’s Vineyard, a nonprofit organization that assists island residents facing homelessness.
“They looked exhausted,” Tewhey said. “Someone had given the kids hula hoops, so there were maybe four children outside playing on the grass and running around and probably trying to stretch their legs after a plane ride.
“We did what we normally do with the homeless population down here, and that is pull together resources to meet people’s emergency needs,” she added. “That happened very fast. It was very impressive.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent the migrants to the island off Massachusetts with no warning in what appears to be an escalation of a tactic in which Republican governors bus migrants to liberal cities to protest the rise in people in the country illegally during the Biden administration.
Other leaders have sent migrants to cities better equipped to handle such influxes: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has been busing migrants to Washington, while Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has bused migrants to Washington, New York and Chicago.
Nonetheless, Martha’s Vineyard — a summertime hot spot that is home to only 20,000 year-round residents — managed.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes said the island quickly offered health care and provided 50 beds, meals and a play area for kids.
“These immigrants were not met with chaos, they were met with compassion,” he tweeted Wednesday night. “The community coming together with water, food, interpretation help, & resources to support these families represent the best of America.”
The arrival of the migrants was surprising, but the warm community response was not, said Danny Segal, who owns Edgartown Pizza.
He had not heard about the island’s latest visitors Wednesday afternoon when his pizza parlor got an unusually large order: 10 of his largest pies. When he asked what the occasion was, “they told me it was for 50 people who showed up at their doorstep, but they didn’t elaborate,” Segal said.
Figuring they were for people in need, Segal gave them a discount. When he found out later whom exactly the pizza was for, he wanted to help even more.
“That 50 migrants were sent up to Martha’s Vineyard? That whole thing seemed a little odd,” he said. “But the fact that they were here and the community reached out to help them? That’s almost expected.”
The fact that they were here and the community reached out to help them? That’s almost expected.”
Danny Segal, owner of EDgartown Pizza
Rebecca Pierce, the director of media and events at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, a nonprofit organization that has coordinated much of the welcoming effort, said organizers have been “absolutely overwhelmed” by donations. They have received enough clothing and blankets, she said, but they continue to accept financial donations.
“I don’t know why they were selected to come to this tiny little island, but it always seems to come together in times of need,” she said.
The group spent the night at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edgartown, and Tewhey said she expects them to sleep there again Thursday night.
In an interview with The New York Times, a migrant identified only by his first name, Leonel, said those in town had been generous, giving him a pair of shoes, among other things.
“I haven’t slept well in three months,” Leonel told the paper in Spanish. “It’s been three months since I put on a new pair of pants. Or shoes.”
The migrants arrived at what is normally the calm after the busiest season of the year for Martha’s Vineyard, when its summer population swells to 200,000 or so. When the tourists leave, so do many of the jobs, Tewhey said, a concern for anyone seeking employment at this time of year.
“The number of jobs really is reduced in the offseason,” she said.
But there are benefits to coming at this time, too, Tewhey added.
“Weather’s perfect, it’s low-key, the sun is out,” she said, joking: “It’s actually a beautiful time to drop in from the sky.”