On Sunday, Feb. 25, a fundraiser for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico was held at the restaurant BC Kitchen on Collegeview Avenue. Surrounded by a vibrant atmosphere with Latin American music, art, snacks and drinks, attendees donated money and discussed their support for the island. There was no admission price, but there was a suggested donation of $20.
Last September, Hurricane Maria severely damaged Puerto Rico. This powerful Category 4 storm was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico in 85 years. The island lost power, buildings were destroyed, trees were pulled up and many areas flooded. As a result, numerous Puerto Ricans fled their homes and sought refuge on the mainland (CNN, “In Pictures: Hurricane Maria Pummels Puerto Rico,” 09.2017).
Five months after the disaster, the restoration process in Puerto Rico is far from complete. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced in October that the goal was to restore 95 percent of the damaged electricity system by Dec. 15. “This is an aggressive agenda, but we cannot be sort of passive in the face of Puerto Rico’s challenges,” Rosselló said. “We are going to need all hands on deck.” Unfortunately, this did not come to pass (CNN, “Puerto Rico governor plans to restore 95% of power by December,” 10.15.2017).
Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Todd Semonite noted, “I am not satisfied that people in Puerto Rico should have to wait that much time for power … But I am telling you, there are no other knobs I can turn to go any faster” (Newsweek, “Top U.S. Army Engineer ‘Not Satisfied’ with Puerto Rico’s Post-Hurricane Maria Recovery,” 02.22.2018).
One group particularly impacted by the slow restoration process is refugees. Puerto Ricans who lost their homes and moved to the United States are currently depending on aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Almost 4,000 families spread across the States—mostly in Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York—are staying in hotels under FEMA’s transitional sheltering assistance program. However, FEMA announced that it may no longer be able to support the refugees due to its limited budget. As a result, refugees who cannot go back to their homes immediately and do not have enough money to sustain their lives in the mainland United States are living in a state of extreme uncertainty (The New York Times, “Time is Running Out for Puerto Ricans Sheltering in Hotels,” 02.12.2018).
In order to help these refugees, there have been numerous fundraising events in Poughkeepsie. In September, Dutchess County Legislator Francena Amparo held a relief drive at Café con Leche in New Hamburg (The Poughkeepsie Journal, “Relief drive held Sunday for Puerto Rico in wake of Hurricane Maria,” 09.25.2017). According to an event page on Facebook, Vassar’s Caribbean Students Alliance also organized a relief drive last fall (Facebook, “Vassar College Hurricane Relief Drive,” 09.12.2017).
Town of Poughkeepsie Councilwoman Jessica Lopez, along with Stephanie Gibbons organized Sunday’s fundraiser at BC Kitchen to provide assistance for eight orphanages in Puerto Rico.
Lopez explained the purpose of the event, recounting, “[Gibbons] and I, over the past year and a half, have begun doing charity work, typically in our own community, [that is] often focused on children in need. We [were] really successful on a drive for school supplies, Hudson River Housing and Christmas gifts for kids living at the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. This time we wanted to work with orphanages in Puerto Rico because it was such a tragedy when the hurricane hit.” She added, “There was all the immediate relief as there often is after tragedy, and there was a shock [that] wears off when relief pulls back. But they are still desperate for support. So we wanted to do whatever we could try to help.”
Lopez and Gibbons also clarified how the donations reach Puerto Rico. All the physical donations, such as water filters, hygiene products and food will go directly to the orphanages. The goods are gathered at the Reformed Church of Poughkeepsie and will be taken to Puerto Rico by a Poughkeepsie resident who is Puerto Rican and has connections to the orphanages. The money, however, is going to the Hispanic Federation, a New York City-based nonprofit. Lopez explained that there is a specific branch of the Hispanic Federation that deals with relief in Puerto Rico.
Lopez also clarified why Puerto Rico was chosen as the place that would receive the donation. She noted, “My husband is Argentine and my mother-in-law is Puerto Rican, so I have a strong bond with [the] Latino community… The way I can make sure to stay connected with [the] Latino community is sticking with people who are in different Latino committees. Through fundraising, I can help them. So here I am.”
Lastly, the organizers pointed out the significance of this event. Lopez said, “This is a benefit for two reasons. One is to raise a monetary donation. Number two is to raise an awareness of how you can continue to support [Puerto Rico]. This is a way to make money for the charity but also to say thank you to everybody for supporting.”