In the week since Hurricane Irma ravaged the U.S. Virgin Islands, retired NBA player Tim Duncan has ushered a campaign that has raised more than $2 million and collected more than 400,000 lbs. of aid, which includes food, supplies and generators among other necessities. But he needs one more thing: Transportation.
“People have been wonderfully generous. The toughest part right now? Trying to find transport, and getting it down there as soon as possible,” Duncan, who retired from the San Antonio Spurs in 2016, tells PEOPLE. “It does us no good if it’s just sitting there, down on the ground.”
Duncan, who grew up on the island of St. Croix, knows the value of supplies in the wake of a devastating storm. In 1989, when he was 13 years old, Duncan and his family survived Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm that left 34 people dead in the Caribbean.
Throughout the storm, Duncan and his family huddled inside a small room and listened to the strengthening winds as it battered his home.
“The howling of the wind and the crashing of things on the wall, the little creaking of the roof, where you’re thinking it might get pulled off — I remember hearing all of those sounds,” says Duncan, 41, who now lives in San Antonio.
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By daybreak, the eye of the storm was overhead.
“We got to peek out the window a little bit and see how there were no leaves on the trees, how our neighbor’s roof was gone, how things were sprayed all over the yard,” he says. “I remember walking down the street and there were huge trees that were ripped out of the ground and laying down in the middle of the road. There were people just like us walking around and assessing what was going on.”
It’s an image and experience he hasn’t forgotten. As he and his family tried to figure out “a new normal,” as he calls it, they were dependent on supplies shipped to the island. They’d receive boxes from a neighborhood distribution center. He fondly recalls dinners of Chef Boyardee and Tang.
“[T]his week I’ve been thinking a lot about those cans. Because they were a godsend. They were like magic to me. Someone had sent them — I don’t know who, or what organization, but someone had sent them. And I was so happy and grateful,” Duncan wrote in a letter he posted on The Players’ Tribune. “Not because I loved them — I’ve probably haven’t had Chef Boyardee since — but because that food was a necessity. It got us through.”
Duncan, who played his entire 19-year career with the San Antonio Spurs, is determined to help the U.S. Virgin Islands and make sure they’re not forgotten as the government begins to assess the damage left in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, the second-strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
As he raises money and figures out how to get supplies from San Antonio to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Duncan says this is not a short-term solution.
“I’m blessed with the fact that I made it through the storm. I’m blessed with the fact that at some point during the recovery, there was somebody at this end trying to put together supplies and effort to get it down there and get us back on our feet,” he says. “I have that opportunity to be that person now and I’m not going to pass up that opportunity.”