It will be a very merry Christmas for some Hope Town, Abaco residents who were the surprise recipients of pine Christmas trees on Saturday afternoon. The trees were brought in on a barge and distributed throughout the community to those whom the donors knew needed them.
Three months after the catastrophic Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama in early September, recovery and rebuilding efforts are still ongoing on both islands, but it has been a struggle for many who remain displaced and dejected in the aftermath.
Many lost their homes and some even lost family members or loved ones.
But the generous couple behind this unique gift-giving, Jill and Joe Presta, of Arlington, Virginia, wanted to bring some holiday cheer to the Hope Town community.
In an interview with The Nassau Guardian, Joe, 54, said, “It was 35 trees but for each tree, I knew people might not have stands, they might have lost all their decorations, so I got each one a stand and two light strings.
“So every person I gave a tree to, I also gave a stand and two light strings and they really needed all that stuff so I’m glad I brought it.”
The patent attorney credits his wife with the idea and said it came naturally, as the pair had already been assisting with transporting people and goods back and forth from the island since right after the storm.
They almost rode out the storm from Sea Spray Resort & Marina in Elbow Cay, where they had been staying for almost six months. But just before it hit, the couple decided to sail to Nassau instead and rode it out there, where the effects were minor in comparison.
The marina was destroyed during Dorian.
Joe said he’s glad that they were able to save their boat, as they were able to use it within four days of the storm’s passing to begin assisting with recovery efforts.
“I’ve delivered a lot of things [to Hope Town],” said Joe.
“This is my fifth trip up there since the storm.
“Other times, in the beginning, it was food and clothing and water and medical supplies. And then it turned into, sort of, beer and rum and cigarettes.”
He said that every time he made a trip to the island, he made an effort to bring something special with him, starting with $1,000 worth of Kentucky Fried Chicken, then Dunkin’ Donuts for everyone in the community and now the trees, which he said were “probably the biggest hit of all” in the community.
By Tuesday evening, community members had already banded together to set up one of the Christmas trees in the local park and get it all decked out in holiday lights, much to Joe’s excitement.
Many of the families that received trees sent photos and videos once they had theirs set up and Joe said he was continuing to receive even more. He said it’s a heartwarming sight for him and his wife to see how much the gesture was appreciated.
He also spoke of the spirit of giving he encountered on his journey, from different individuals and also from the company he purchased the trees from — Ryan’s Christmas Tree Garden, here on New Providence — which offered him a discount upon finding out he intended to carry the trees to Abaco, much to his surprise and delight.
“You know, I didn’t push them too hard or anything but he [the tree salesman] volunteered to give me a discount. He knew they were going to Hope Town,” Joe said.
Joe added, “I had one guy [Shane] here that I just met after the disaster. He’s been helping me with all the runs up there because he has a brother and a cousin up in Hope Town. I didn’t know him before but every trip I’ve made he’s gone with me. He’s been helping me like crazy and he’s from Nassau. Another guy [Lenny]is actually from Hope Town, but, [w]ell, his family’s in Nassau but he’s in Hope Town, for the last 10 years. But he’s displaced from there now, living back here in Nassau.
“So those two guys were a big help.”
Joe said overall it was “a really fun thing to do”, adding, “I was happy about it. People up there love those trees too.”
While Joe said he and his wife like to think of themselves as being from Hope Town, they chose the community because it feels like home to them and they’re looking forward to Abaco rebuilding stronger than ever.
The couple is in the process of building a second home on Elbow Cay.
“I’ve traveled all over The Bahamas and believe me I love so many different places in The Bahamas, so I don’t want to knock any of them,” Joe told The Nassau Guardian.
“But as far as setting down roots and building a house, my wife and I really thought that was just a great place because there’s community there, there’s a lot of things my wife can do to help volunteer, the fishing’s great and [there are] a lot of nice people, so it just started to feel like home to us.”
As he continues offering assistance to residents in the community, he said: “It’s amazing. I’m so happy that I’m bringing people back to Hope Town now, not just out of Hope Town.
“A lot of people are coming back. My biggest fear was that everybody would leave and we’d lose that community. But it seems to me that people are really committed to coming back.
“At least most people; I’m sure for some people it’s just too much. But I’m happy to see how much activity is going on there and how many people I know with houses that are planning on finishing them and returning to them, and I think after this it’ll even be a stronger community,” he continued.
“Sure it would’ve been easy to walk away, but not for us, it’s not.
“We want to be there and see it through.”