Despierta Boricua, the Puerto Rican student organization at Yale, and the La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda fraternity partnered to host a relief drive on Saturday, Sept. 30, to collect vital supplies for Puerto Ricans left reeling in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
The drive, which took place from noon to 4 p.m. on Cross Campus, was set up to collect canned food, water, clothing and toiletries for Hurricane Maria victims, who are running low on critically needed supplies. According to Despierta Boricua President Kiana Hernandez ’18, the relief drive was a resounding success.
“Once we got past that first hour, it was just nonstop,” Hernandez said. “The Despierta Boricua room at La Casa is full [of supplies]. It’s hard to take more than three steps into that room at this point.”
Hernandez stressed that Despierta Boricua acted quickly in order to ensure that the drive took place while major media outlets were still covering the storm.
Before Saturday’s drive, she said, the only donation drop-off points in Connecticut were New Britain and Hartford. The drive was intended to provide an opportunity for both New Haven residents and Yale students to donate locally, Hernandez added.
“If you don’t necessarily have the means to get there, but you still want to give something, that’s way too far,” Hernandez said. “New Haven is a small community, but it’s very Puerto Rican-dense, so the news spread so quickly.”
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican officials and several members of Congress urged President Donald Trump’s administration to waive the Jones Act, a World War I-era federal law designed to protect the financial interests of U.S. shipbuilders by limiting shipping by foreign vessels. While the act was quickly lifted to help Texas and Florida in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Trump initially hesitated to lift the act for Puerto Rico, citing concerns that “a lot of shippers” did not want it lifted. The act was finally waived for a period of ten days on Thursday.
Hernandez, who said she does not necessarily speak for Despierta Boricua as a whole, described Trump’s handling of the Jones act as “bulls***.”
“Ten days is not enough,” she said. “People are dying, and [Trump] was like, I don’t want to waive the Jones Act because shipping companies don’t want me to. Honestly, [repealing the Jones Act] would make life so much easier for people in Puerto Rico.”
Hernandez added that she views the Jones Act as the “number one reason” that Puerto Rico is in such great debt.
Victoria Bonano ’21, whose family is currently in Puerto Rico, also said that given the magnitude of the crisis, the administration “has taken too long to act.”
“When we say our families are okay, it just means that they’re alive,” Bonano said. “Adding Puerto Rico’s debt issue and the level of unpreparedness of the island to this makes it extremely frustrating to see that the federal government has been so hesitant to effectively provide the immediate relief that American citizens need.”
Bonano added that the Jones Act should have been waived earlier in order to support relief efforts.
Still, Christian Wolpert Gaztambide ’20, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, said that while the government response to the Puerto Rican crisis has been “a bit slow,” he appreciates the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. military.
“Their first responders have been working tirelessly to help the people,” Wolpert said. “I hope the president’s visit tomorrow sheds light on the problems faced by Puerto Ricans and that, from his experience, the president can take the necessary actions to help in the long-term relief and reconstruction of my beloved Puerto Rico.”
Hernandez noted that other organizations have reached out to Despierta Boricua to help with relief efforts. On Saturday, Oct. 7, the Jazz Collective is co-hosting an event and offered to let Despierta Boricua members operate a table outside from 7 to 9 p.m. to collect monetary donations for the cause, she said.
According to Despierta Boricua member Nissim Roffe ’21, students from across various universities banded together following Hurricane Maria to form the group Students with Puerto Rico, which recently started a gofundme page to raise funds for recovery and relief.
“Over 80 universities are using the same gofundme link to raise funds,” Roffe said. “So far, we’ve surpassed the goal of $150,000.”
Roffe added that, in order to increase support for the cause, he has been reaching out to local businesses, such as Blue State, which has posted the link to the gofundme page on its Facebook profile. According to Wolpert Gaztambide, the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital are sending medical essentials to Puerto Rico. And, in partnership with Toad’s Place, Yale undergraduates are hosting a Woads for Puerto Rico on Wednesday.
Roffe said he is also planning to personally donate goods to medical evacuees in the Northeast of the country this weekend.
“I don’t know how much I can carry with me, but whatever I can, I’m bringing to New Jersey,” Roffe said. “I don’t care how I’ll get it there.”
Rianna Turner | firstname.lastname@example.org