After Hurricane Maria brought catastrophic damage to the island of Puerto Rico, Mission Hill’s own state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, along with other Boston organizations, have come together to support the people of Puerto Rico through donations of food, items, and money.
The Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts Incorporated (PRFM) hosted a grassroots Boston Strong for Puerto Rico and friend’s relief drive on the weekend of Sept. 29 and Oct. 1. Greater Bostonians were invited to donate items like water, diapers, canned foods, baby wipes, peanut butter, protein bars, can openers, and canned juice.
Greg Molina, director of communications at PRFM, said that the donation drive was “extremely successful.”
“It was a home run. On the first day, we filled the whole 18-wheeler,” Molina said. “Even though it was raining and extremely cold, we literally had non-stop donations. We had to start 30 minutes early because there were already people there lined up to donate.”
Molina said they collected much more than their original goal of filling the 18-wheeler, and gave the leftover donations, enough to fit half an 18-wheeler, to another privately-funded donation drive. The 18-wheeler has been put on a plane and flown to Puerto Rico.
In addition to the donation drive, PRFM has established a Boston Strong for Puerto Rico and Friend’s fund, and will donate whatever proceeds are donated directly to hurricane relief in Puerto Rico without any administrative fees.
Mission Hill’s Sociedad Latina is making efforts to assist the incoming Puerto Rican community into Boston.
“Socidedad Latina is part of the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Cares Campaign that is getting ready to receive and welcome families from Puerto Rico who wish to enroll their child in BPS,” said Alex Oliver-Davila, executive director of Sociedad Latina. “As part of the effort, Sociedad Latina is prepared to offer our language capacity to assist families with translation and any needed referrals. We will also be collecting winter coats, hats, gloves, and scarves for families.”
City and State Support
The City, the state and the Boston Foundation have announced the creation of the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, which is dedicated to the relief and reconstruction of Puerto Rico and to support any Puerto Ricans arriving in Boston and the Commonwealth as a result of the destruction of Hurricane Maria. The goal of the fund is to raise 200 million dollars for immediate and infrastructure relief.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Puerto Rican people, those who live here and those who are on the island, as they recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Maria,” Mayor Walsh said in a statement. “We have been in close communication with officials from Puerto Rico and, with such a strong Puerto Rican community here in Boston, they know we are here to help, for as long as they need.”
In the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, up to one-third of the funds raised will be immediately distributed for relief efforts, and the remainder of the fund will be deployed through 2018 for reconstruction and economic recovery projects in Puerto Rico and to support resettlement efforts in Boston and the Commonwealth.
“The humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico is so severe that it will be months if not years before the island fully recovers. The Boston Foundation is committed to joining with Puerto Rican community of Greater Boston, which has done so much for our city and region, as it seeks to provide immediate relief and long-term support,” said Paul S. Grogan, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation, in a statement.
Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez
Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez said that “like so many others,” he still had not heard from his family members in Puerto Rico at the Gazette deadline, two weeks after the hurricane hit the island. Sanchez, anticipating an exodus from the island, has been focusing his efforts on trying to get Boston and the Commonwealth prepared to receive Puerto Ricans, as well as raise as much money to support immediate relief on the island of Puerto Rico.
“We’ve been doing a lot in terms of getting organized and trying to understand what the needs are on the island,” Sanchez said. “People are suffering in terms of water and basic necessities, especially in the mountains and valleys outside of San Juan. Communications are still down, and most of the island doesn’t have electricity, cell phones, or access to water.”
Sanchez urges Bostonians to donate what they can to the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, or any fund which donates proceeds to the island.
“If you’ve got a dollar, put it in the pot,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez also said he wished President Trump and the federal government would make federal actions that would benefit Puerto Rico, such as making a dramatic injection of investment.
“I would hope that Donald Trump could see beyond the tarmac when he visits Puerto Rico. Hopefully he’ll see the island’s destruction and despair,” he said. [Editor’s note: The Gazette spoke with Sanchez before Trump’s visit to the island.]
In terms of himself visiting the island, Sanchez says that he will stay in Massachusetts to do the groundwork for Puerto Ricans here.
“The last thing they need is another politician going down there,” Sanchez said. “They need people going down there to work and rebuild the island.”
Despite the horrific destruction of the island, Sanchez says that there is hope.
“Make no mistake about it, the Puerto Rican people are very resilient. There are incredible stories of hope and unity,” he said.
Massachusetts has the fifth largest population of Puerto Ricans in the continental United States. In Boston, 32,226 residents identify as Puerto Rican and 25.1 percent of Boston’s Latino population identify as Puerto Rican.
How you can help
More information about the donation drive and about how to donate towards Puerto Rican relief can be found at puertoricanfestivalofma.org.
Sociedad Latina, offering translation services and Boston Public School enrollment support, can be found sociedadlatina.org.
More information on Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico can be found at tbf.org/puertorico. Please visit boston.gov for more information on how to find loved ones and more information about volunteer efforts.