Puerto Rico Update: How My Family Is Doing & How You Can Help Puerto Ricans Rebuild by Elisa Schmitz
Many of you have asked how my family in Puerto Rico is doing in the weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged our beautiful island. I am so grateful for your care and support, thank you. The good news is, mis tias y tio are doing OK, despite the challenging circumstances. And here's how I know:
I have a good friend, Julio Ayala, who I met in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you can believe it, his hometown is just 30 minutes from my mother's hometown in Puerto Rico. So over the years, whenever we have visited my family there, we also visited Julio and his wonderful family. It has been a joy to maintain our friendship after college and see our kids, who are now friends with each other, grow up over the years.
I was so relieved when Julio told me his family was OK after the hurricane. His business, El Viandon, specializes in fine foods and produce. His clients are restaurants and hotels all over Puerto Rico, and he has a warehouse and office not too far from where he and my family live, on the interior of the island. Amazingly, El Viandon has power and is operating its regular business hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday). Thankfully, Julio has access to food and water through his suppliers, and his trucks can get around the island (albeit often more slowly).
Imagine my gratitude when Julio paid my family a visit! Having met him a few times over the years, mis tias were excited when he arrived with fresh food, basic supplies and cold water (the thing they craved most). I'm sure it felt like Christmas or better, and all they kept on saying was, "Gracias, Julio! Buena gente!" Yes, Julio is "good people."
And, he brought good luck with him. Just hours before he arrived, the power came back on in my family's cement home, and the phone line started to work! Just as Julio left, my mother was able to talk to her sisters for the first time since the hurricane hit. Julio noted that even though the power and phone returned, there is no guarantee that they will stay on. He has seen electricity go on and off at other parts of the island, so we're not sure that it's back to stay. In fact, nearly 85 percent of the island is without electricity, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. But they are enjoying it while they have it (and even got to watch the news for the first time in weeks, to see what is happening around them).
While being grateful that my family and friends are OK for now, I am disheartened by the overall state of the island. While official reports put the death toll at 48 and more than 100 unaccounted for, my sources tell me it's higher than that. The reality is that because communications are so limited, there hasn't been an accurate count available because so many people are out of touch. Julio shared that many of the morgues are full of bodies, and without power, you can imagine how difficult that is. And, because of lack of access to healthcare and medicine, many others are struggling to survive illnesses and diseases. The lack of water (it's being reported than 1.2 million people are without potable water) is driving some to desperation, collecting water from streams and even drinking water from hazardous waste sites. This is a disaster that will take a very long time to overcome.
But you can help Puerto Rico rebuild. Puerto Ricans are the warmest, strongest people I have met. Yes, I may be biased, but my mother, the youngest of 13, is one tough lady with a heart of gold. And that pretty much sums up most of the Puerto Ricans I know. So please consider supporting the efforts to rebuild this beautiful American territory. Here are some organizations that are doing great work:
- Unidos Por Puerto Rico: "United for Puerto Rico is an initiative brought forth by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, in collaboration with the private sector, with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. 100 percent of the proceeds will go to helping the victims affected by these natural disasters in Puerto Rico."
- UNICEF USA: "UNICEF is mobilizing to get immediate Emergency Relief Kits to the children of Puerto Rico. A donation of just $28 will provide a kit containing basic, essential supplies such as water purification tablets, a water bucket with lid, water containers, soap, toothpaste, detergent and sanitary pads. The supplies will help children and their families keep clean and healthy, protecting them from diseases that can occur after the loss of equipment and infrastructure and the disruption of a safe water supply."
- The Red Cross: "Red Cross is deploying relief supplies such as water, rice, beans, ready-to-eat meals, cleanup kits, home repair kits, tarps, trash bags, insect repellent, hand sanitizer, work gloves and more. Given that communication is almost impossible with cell service interrupted, we are shipping in satellite phones and other technology supplies to help."
- Save the Children: "Save the Children’s relief experts are on the ground right now, doing whatever it takes to care for the most vulnerable in any emergency: children. When you donate to Save the Children’s Hurricane Maria relief, you’re providing critical aid to children and families who need it most, so they can survive this crisis, recover from their losses and rebuild their lives."
- One America Appeal: Formed by all five living former U.S. presidents, "All funds collected through the One America Appeal will go into a special account at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, to ensure 100 cents out of every dollar donated goes to hurricane recovery. All monies collected will be distributed immediately to the designated recovery funds. All donations are also tax-deductible."
Thank you for your support. Together, we can help La Isla del Encanto regain its strength and beauty.