Union Wireman Giving Back Via Backpacks
IBEW locals around the country are helping Phil St. Jean provide backpacks for kids in Florida and hurricane ravaged Dominica
Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Local 728 member Phil St. Jean isn’t one to walk by when he sees someone in need, especially not when it’s in Dominica, his home country.
Over the past three years, the journeyman wireman and his wife, Nicky, have been passing out backpacks filled with school supplies to students in grades kindergarten through 12. St. Jean discovered the need for backpacks when he was dropping off his stepsons at school (he splits his time between Dominica and the U.S.).
“We noticed that there were a few students with ripped backpacks. So, I met with the principal about the situation and, to my surprise, I found out that there were a lot of underprivileged kids who needed help,” St. Jean said. “That’s when my wife and I decided to donate bags, to help the kids.”
They started at their sons’ school, Roosevelt Douglas Primary School. The backpacks are filled with two composition books, pencils, erasers, pens, a sharpener and a ruler. It didn’t take long for word of St. Jean’s generosity to spread.
“It was then laid upon our hearts to do more, so we contacted the principals of several other schools in the northern district of the country to find out who else may be in need,” he said.
They've also donated coloring books, crayons, storybooks and teaching supplies to preschools in the area.
The first set of backpacks were donated by his friend, Dale, who owns Dale's Tires in Fort-Lauderdale, St. Jean said.
That a tire store owner in Florida would be motivated to donate to a place he may or may not have ever even visited shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s a testament to St. Jean’s tenacity when it comes to helping others. When he traveled to Utah for work, he got members of Salt Lake City Local 354, along with other trades and co-workers at the HollyFrontier refinery to donate around $1,000.
His home local pitched in too, donating another $1,000.
“We think it’s a great thing, what he’s doing,” said Local 728 Assistant Business Manager Zac Cassidy. “Phil’s an excellent example of what unions are really about and we’re happy to help him.”
The small, West Indies island was hit hard last year by Hurricane Maria, destroying about 90 percent of the country. St. Jean helped then too, working with his local and the international office to secure water and other supplies. Some of the volunteers he organized then are helping him this time around as well.
The approximately $2,000 raised is about half of what St. Jean says he needs. After speaking with the school officials, he learned that he would need to have about 800 backpacks to make sure every child who needs one gets one. Those interested in helping St. Jean can go to his GoFundMe page.
St. Jean says anyone who would like to purchase backpacks directly can call 305-400-9040 and let them know the purchase is for Phil St. Jean, along with his phone number: 941-467-6643. When prompted, donors can ask for any of these backpack style numbers: B6678, B2458, AS71-F, B8148DW-G, B8148, B2471 and B2458DW.