Hurricane Maria plowed through Puerto Rico back in September, but 46 percent of the island is still without generated power, according to the government website status.pr.
Even though the territory of the United States is over 1,500 miles away, Hoboken residents young and old are answering the call to help Puerto Ricans in need.
Local lifelong senior Ida Cruz recent teamed up with the Doing Good Foundation, Boots on the Ground, and other citizens to help gather supplies and donations to be shipped to the island.
Cruz was given a room at the Multi-Service Center and has been collecting everything from dry food and pampers to water bottles and generators.
Students from Hoboken Charter school helped box the supplies as well as raise over $1,000, which they presented to Cruz last week.
Children from the Boys & Girls Club also wrote letters which Cruz included in her shipments, with sentiments like “I hope your house is Ok” and “we wont forget you. We are here with you. We love you so much.”
“These little kids have more heart then even grown ups,” said Cruz. “This town, Hoboken residents, have stepped up to the plate like I never believed. I couldn’t be more proud of Hoboken. I am never leaving.”
‘I know what it’s like’
Cruz who is of Puerto Rican decent and still has family in the area, said she felt compelled to help in any way she could. As soon as she heard about Hurricane Maria, she remembered having lost her hair salon in western Hoboken to Hurricane Sandy. She has never reopened it.
But even more, she was concerned about island residents’ stories of “struggling to survive.”
“It gives me a little bit of solace to know I am doing everything I can to help,” she said.
“Anything they need, I make sure we get, “ said Cruz.
Cruz has already sent three shipments and will be sending her fourth shipment the first or second week of January.
She said this will be her last shipment, as it costs $3,000 to ship supplies to Puerto Rico.
“I thought about it and after this shipment, I will no longer receive donations,” said Cruz. “But I am hoping to get people to donate prepaid cards which my guys in Boots on the Ground can use to buy what is needed there and take it to the people. It costs $3,000 to ship supplies to Puerto Rico. That money could help feed a lot of families.”
She said she has collected about $12000 to $13000 from the community and Doing Good Foundation.
“The money we get pays for us to supply nurses and our military guys going out there,” said Cruz. “It helps pay for plane tickets there and back and Zika testing when they get back.”
Military help from her son
One such “military guy” is David Sorrano, Cruz’s son, who was in the Navy and has spent several weeks in Puerto Rico through Boots on the Ground, handing out the supplies his mother worked to collect and ship.
He and his team helped distribute the supplies as well as repair buildings and schools decimated by the storm.
“Everyday is a fight for survival for these families,” said Sorrano. “This is not like Louisiana where neighboring states could just send over trucks. This is an island. They are alone.”
Sorrano, Cruz, and Ben Watsky, a New York state resident and member of the Air National Guard, are in the midst of creating a non-profit called “Openworld Relief” which they hope will help during disasters such as Hurricane Maria.
Cruz said they hope to send 40 people, including midwives, as right now “women are giving birth by candlelight and they don’t even have enough water to help clean their babies and prevent infection.”
Education through service
Tamar Reyes, a Spanish teacher at the Hoboken Charter School for the past five years, saw Cruz’s sign in the multi service center and knew her students would want to get involved.
Reyes is the advisor for a community service club at the school called GenerationOn.
“She had the donations but not enough hands to put all the boxes together,” said Reyes. “We separated everything and helped box them up.”
Maria Diaz and her eighth grade Spanish students at the Hoboken Charter School wanted to help as well. They raised $1,154 through an online webpage as well as an October bake sale that was used to purchase a generator and supplies, which will be shipped to Puerto Rico.
“Through Spanish and the news, my students saw what was happening in Puerto Rico and saw that they needed dire help,” said Diaz, who added that the school has a commitment to service learning.
“I think it’s important to show people that even younger kids can make a difference too in really important situations like this,” said Gabbi, age 13.
Matthew, a 13-year-old student at the school, said, “We were aware of what happening in Puerto Rico and we are lucky to be in this position to help them. And its not something that a lot of people have the chance to do. And the fact that we were able to do it and do it well is meaningful to us and is something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.”
“I feel like a lot of people understand how they have been blessed but they just never do anything with their blessings. They don’t act,” added thirteen-year-old Ali.
“I have a lot of family over there in Puerto Rico and it was kind of hard for us to find them in the beginning, but after a few weeks, we finally got in contact with them. It was kind of a relief to know that they were ok,” said Andrea, age 13.
Diaz said it’s important for her students to get involved “because this is real life. They are making connections outside of the classroom and learning through primary sources, Ida Cruz and her son and not just from the news or their textbooks.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at email@example.com.