Hurricane Maria One Year Later in Puerto Rico: "A Ray of Light in a Moment of Darkness"
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (Sept. 18, 2018) Hundreds of families in Puerto Rico continue to get much-needed aid, thanks to Food For The Poor's generous donors, one year after Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory with heavy rain, flash floods and winds of 155 mph.
Food For The Poor is working with Caritas and the Episcopal Church, its trusted partners, to see that the donated goods are organized and distributed throughout the island.
The charity has shipped 100 tractor-trailor loads of relief supplies since the storm, including 76 directly to Caritas and 24 to the Episcopal Church.
"Food For The Poor's donors have been a ray of light in a moment of darkness," said Fr. Enrique Camacho, Executive Director of Caritas Puerto Rico. "They are a ray of mercy and of hope. We don't have words enough to thank them. They made a big difference. They saved lives."
Caritas has distributed aid with six dioceses working together, reaching 500 parishes in all 78 counties of Puerto Rico and a total of 2 million people. With tractor-trailer loads of supplies arriving almost weekly, the goods typically are distributed in the same week to families who need them. This speedy distribution system also helps make room in Caritas' warehouse for new shipments.
A second partner, the Episcopal Church, has 52 parishes throughout the island in addition to warehouses and transportation, which have been key to distributing aid in rural areas. The supplies provided by Food For The Poor through the Episcopal Church have reached more than 175,000 people. Father Rafael Zorrilla said the church continues to distribute food and medicine as well as provide spiritual and psychological counseling to victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We give profound thanks. Without the help of Food For The Poor and its donors, Puerto Rico wouldn't be the same," said Fr. Zorrilla. "We're like a child learning how to walk again. There are still plenty of things to do, but we are walking."
Food For The Poor has sent zinc and lumber to repair homes and generators to power lights and cooling fans. Additionally, the charity has sent tarps, flashlights, batteries, canned goods, water, diapers, medical supplies, hygiene kits, roof straps, ridge caps, plywood, folding beds and mattresses, student desks and chairs, desks for teachers, canned food, MannaPack rice meals, evaporated milk and rice.
While Food For The Poor's mission primarily is to serve internationally, the charity has responded in the past to catastrophic disasters in the United States and now to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
"It is our goal and our mission to help the people of Puerto Rico continue to recover from Hurricane Maria. We will be there for the long haul," said Robin Mahfood, President/CEO of Food For The Poor. "Words cannot express the gratitude Food For The Poor has for every item of clothing, bag of rice, ounce of medicine or monetary contribution that is donated to this organization to help the people of Puerto Rico especially during the time of a natural disaster."
When Maria hit on Sept. 20, 2017, all 3.3 million of Puerto Rico's residents lost power as the storm knocked out the entire island's electrical grid. Some 60,000 people still only have tarps for roofs. The government closed more than 200 schools due to declining enrollment triggered in part by the storm, forcing many students to crowd into other schools or attend classes in refurbished shipping containers, according to Fr. Camacho.
In a draft report to Congress posted online, the government said 527,000 homeowners reported damage and about 40 schools permanently closed because of structural damage.
Power was restored to the last homes in mid-August, more than 10 months after Maria. But rolling blackouts or brownouts occur daily because the grid is so weak.
In June, Caritas heard about the community of Yabucoa, where 95 percent of its residents had been living in the dark since Maria hit. Some had become so desperate they attempted suicide, said Fr. Camacho. The charity quickly responded with 210 generators, which Fr. Camacho and volunteers from Caritas delivered to families with the greatest needs. Many residents thanked God.
"Because of Food For The Poor we were able to do something really significant," said Fr. Camacho.
With so many homes and businesses still needing to be repaired or rebuilt, Fr. Zorrilla said the demand for construction materials and labor is strong. "There is not enough to meet the demand," he said.
Fr. Camacho said Puerto Ricans are grateful for the compassion of donors who continue to respond to the island's needs. Without their generous support, he said even more lives would have been lost.
"We still have a lot of challenges, especially thousands of families who still have no roofs," said Fr. Camacho. "It's really dangerous because we don't know if we're going to have another hurricane. People need materials to reconstruct their houses, but there still is a need for basic things like food and clothes.
"Single mothers have the greatest needs," he added. "Some of them have lost their jobs, so everything related to the care of babies and children is really needed."
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of the hungry poor primarily in 17 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, clean water, medicines, educational materials, homes, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.
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