Since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, New Haven residents have come together to raise money for the U.S. territory.
Fundraising and donation efforts are underway, both at Yale and in New Haven, to provide aid to those affected by the storm. In recent days, Mayor Toni Harp’s office and New Haven state Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-Conn., along with local grassroots groups such as Arte Inc. and Puerto Ricans United, have organized a number of events to support hurricane relief.
Earlier this month, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph, left the island’s infrastructure in shambles and residents in need. Many have been left without electricity, food or drinkable water, a situation the governor of Puerto Rico called a “humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S. citizens.”
“Everyone is working together as a big family no matter what country they are from,” said Maritza Rosa, who is originally from Puerto Rico but has lived in New Haven for 25 years. “Everybody is working together to help Puerto Rico.”
Rosa is part of a committee created by local community groups to develop a plan to collect funds for the island. This Friday, the proceeds from Hillhouse High School’s football game against Hamden High School will go toward a hurricane relief fund established by the city.
This Saturday, Rosa and others will collect food and donations at four points around the city — Grand Avenue and Ferry Street, Kimberly Avenue and Lamberton Street, Grasso Boulevard and Columbus Avenue and State and Elm Streets.
The mayor’s office, Candelaria and staff members of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., are also working together to organize a rally on Saturday in Quinnipiac River Park in Fair Haven to raise funds and support New Haven’s hurricane relief efforts.
Donations to New Haven’s fund can also be made by texting “UNITY” to 414-44.
Candelario and representatives from Blumenthal’s office are coordinating with the Puerto Rican government to best determine how that money will be spent.
“Every dollar that is raised will be sent to Puerto Rico to try and help families out,” said Arte Inc. co-founder David Greco.
Eight percent of Connecticut’s population has Puerto Rican heritage, according to a 2014 report from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Mayoral spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the mayor, in part, wanted to publicize the efforts of local residents because of the connection the city has with the people of Puerto Rico.
Relief and rebuilding efforts are happening on Yale’s campus as well. A joint effort by Yale New Haven Hospital and the School of Medicine has raised 15 pallets’ worth of medical supplies to ship to the island, and Grotheer said organizers expect that amount to double.
Undergraduate relief efforts have been directed primarily through Despierta Boricua at Yale, the Puerto Rican student organization at the University. On Saturday, members of Despierta Boricua will be posted on Cross Campus to accept food and donations. And next Wednesday, there will be a Woads benefit to raise money for Puerto Rico.
In addition, Yale’s chapter of Students with Puerto Rico, led by Christian Wolpert Gaztambide ’20 and Jordi Bofill ’19, is helping raise awareness for the national organization, which has raised more than $115,000 through online fundraising. This amount includes a $20,000 donation by Jimmy Fallon, who voiced his support for the group.
While these efforts focus on the short-term relief necessary in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, Wolpert Gaztambide is anticipating long-term problems.
“Puerto Rico needs more than relief,” he said. “It needs reconstruction.”
To help facilitate that work, Wolpert Gaztambide has started his own website, prselevanta.org, or “Puerto Rico gets back up,” aimed at connecting university students with reconstruction ideas to the officials who can make those ideas a reality. The website was launched on Monday.
The motivation behind the website, according to Wolpert Gaztambide, is to help facilitate long-term efforts that continue when the current media spotlight falls off the island. Wolpert Gaztambide was inspired to form the website after seeing pictures of Puerto Rico following the hurricane.
“Seeing the impact and devastation on the places that I love — my high school, the areas around my home — made me think that now is the time to get something started,” he said. “We can continue to prosper from the influx of ideas and the influx of love.”
Ines Ozonas ’20, who was raised in Puerto Rico in the small, mountainous town of Castaner, also emphasized the importance of a sustained effort, pointing out how past disasters in Haiti and even in Houston have quickly disappeared from public conversation.
Both Wolpert Gaztambide and Ozonas, however, were heartened by the outpouring of support and aid, both nationally and locally from communities like New Haven, for the home they feel is often ignored.
Grotheer pointed out that Puerto Rico has no voting representation in Congress and thus little political clout, making local relief efforts all the more important.
The rally this Saturday is from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Conor Johnson | email@example.com