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    Wednesday, June 19, 2019-5:16:25P.M.

     

     

     

     

     

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FEATURE | ‘We cannot chase him away...where will he go?’

IT was four days after Typhoon Yutu tore through the islands of Saipan and Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Joeten Supermarket in Susupe, Saipan had just re-opened to the public.  It would be the first time since the story that I was able to resume my daily routine of checking the shelves for fruits and vegetables.

I approached the worker dutifully stocking the shelves in the produce department. His name is Randy Vicente. Originally from Cavite, the Philippines, Randy has had only this one employer in his 25 years on the island. And, in all the years I’ve lived on Saipan and shopped there, Randy has always been quite friendly, always offering a bubbly “Good morning, Mr. Walt!” offering information on upcoming sales, asking if there was anything he could help with, and making this mundane experience quite pleasant. Today was no different in that regard. However, I could tell something was, in fact, different. The area around his eyes had the telltale darkness and showed the strain of someone who hadn’t slept in days.

Click to enlarge
Randy Vicente receives $250 GofundMe/CNMIStrong campaign check from Walt Goodridge.  Contributed photo

“So, what’s your situation?” I asked him.

“Oh, me? I’m homeless!” he replied, and despite the direness of what he had just said, he delivered it with the same bubbliness and smile as if he were greeting me on a normal day. “My roof is gone, and my apartment is destroyed,” he added.

“So, where are you staying?” I asked.

“Nowhere,” he replied. “For the past four nights, I’ve been sleeping in the front lobby of World Resort.”

(I asked Randy if the hotel staff and security gave him a hard time while he was in the lobby. He said no, but he overheard them saying “We cannot chase him away...where will he go?”)

“Did you try sleeping in a shelter?” I suggested.

“What shelter?” he asked.

I had heard from another worker that Saipan Community Church had a shelter. I told Randy about it, and he confirmed that he, too, had heard about it just that same morning, and would be giving it a try that evening after work.

“What about your stuff?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s still there.”

“You mean in the apartment?”

“Yes.”

During the storm, as Yutu’s Category Five winds increased in intensity, Randy realized his apartment would likely not withstand the pounding and so he sought refuge and rode out the storm in the Marianas Business Plaza building close by. He returned to find his room destroyed.

It saddened me to realize that here he was showing up for work for his 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift, as he’d done for 25 years, spending precious daylight hours unloading boxes, stocking shelves and helping customers, while his own personal belongings were sitting in a roofless single room with only three and a half walls exposed to the elements, and with nowhere to return to shower and get a good night’s sleep. I thought about the indignity and mental strain of sitting in a hotel lobby hour after hour, night after night, while hotel staff and security guards passed by knowing you weren’t a guest.

(The thought also crossed my mind that what was needed was some sort of free storage facility for typhoon victims.)

My original plan was to use the contributed funds to get gift certificates for two nights at a hotel so he and others in his situation might enjoy a semblance of “normal” living. However, now that incoming airline flights have resumed, the hotels here on Saipan are booked solid. Therefore, I gave Randy the option of a certificate for future use, or cash.

So thanks to the generous contributions of people in the U.S. mainland as well as other countries, I was able to give him a gift of $250! You don’t have to be a megacorporation or millionaire philanthropist to help others. There are still hundreds more we can help with contributions of any size to encourage them to stay strong…CNMI strong.

To watch Randy receiving his gift, visit www.gofundme.com/cnmistrong or www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vThzevgklY