After the devastation and destruction in Puerto Rico left by Hurricane Maria, help and donations have come pouring into the island, which has been without water and electricity since the end of September. One group on the Manhattan College campus has been a key factor in collecting monetary and supply donations, aptly calling themselves “Do It for Puerto Rico.”
As reported in The Quadrangle in the story “MC Reflects on Hurricane Maria,” there was a group of students planning relief efforts soon after the hurricane ruined the island in the Caribbean. This group has since made their name known on campus.
Hurricane Maria has left all of the island’s inhabitants without water, electricity and means of communication to family members. It was one of the worst hurricanes in recent history to hit the island.
“The second worst one was like in the [1920s]. Like our great-grandparents remember it, not even our grandparents. It was intense to see… not even our parents could prepare us or tell us from experience ‘this is what’s gonna happen, don’t worry, we’ll bounce back,’” said Rocio Ramallo, a junior biology major and Puerto Rico native.
“We would joke about hurricane season but nothing would ever happen. [This time], my mom was telling me ‘I’m actually nervous.’ I told her it’s going to be fine, nothing ever happens in Puerto Rico, it’s going to be fine. She’s like ‘no this time, I think it’s going to be bad,’” said Maria De Francisco, a junior communication major. She’s from Colombia but has lived in Puerto Rico for a few years.
It was because of this connection to Puerto Rico—students from there, who have family there, who have lived there at some point or just want to help those in need—that Do It for Puerto Rico, or #DoItForPR, came together.
“We basically created like a group message saying ‘this is a meeting we’ll have and we’ll talk about any ideas we have to try and raise money [and] collect products to send to Puerto Rico.’ It consists of people that aren’t really Puerto Ricans but know us and want to help us… people who live there… It’s open, we’re not really closed to just us it’s open to anyone who can and wants to help,” said Ramallo.
Many of the members do share the common link of coming from Puerto Rico, but it has also been about friends coming together to help any way that they can.
“After the hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico we all automatically came together to kind of help even though we’re far away from home. So all of the Puerto Ricans said ‘what are we going to do about it?’ Some [resident assistants] got involved, like Nate [Garcia]… even though he’s not from the island but he’s been really involved in it. It was just an automatic thing for us,” said Natalia Alvarez, a junior international studies major.
Things quickly went underway with planning events to give back. Nathanial Garcia, as Alvarez mentioned, began helping with the group when they began looking to help out in any way they could. Garcia is a senior biology major and resident assistant in Horan Hall.
Garcia, reached out to Amanda Septimo, a contact he had through the local Bronx government. Septimo helps out with nonprofit events and had previously worked on Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s campaign, so she let Garcia and the group know about a donation drive the borough president was running.
Kathleen Von Euw from Campus Ministry and Social Action was able to orchestrate a van and driver for the group’s trip to the drive, where nine members attended.
“The event was crazy. I thought it was going to be like a couple people organizing some things but there were hundreds of volunteers and thousands of people donating,” said Garcia.
The group arrived around 10 a.m. on Sept. 30 and helped fill three cargo containers to the brim only three hours later. As the group was leaving, they commented on the fact that two empty 18-wheelers were pulling up to house more donations. Cars had been lined up down the street for a mile or so, ready to donate to the drive.
It was a clear showing of community coming together during a time of need. Before the group left for the day, they were interviewed by CBS News affiliate 1010 WINS about the importance of helping Puerto Rico.
Bringing their help back to the campus of Manhattan College, the group then planned a grilled cheese night on Oct. 3.“We were looking for different ideas for different fundraisers because we didn’t want to stick one. Basically we had taken the idea [from L.O.V.E trips] and then talked to student government who told us what to do and who to talk to like Gourmet Dining, who donated a lot of the food,” said De Francisco.
Brian Weinstein was another key contact for this event, but the group also saw an outpour of help from others around campus in special ways, either in ingredient donations or monetary donations.
The Horan Hall lobby was full of music and the smell of grilled cheese that night, with group members running in and out to deliver the sandwiches to students around campus. The fundraiser was also accepting Venmo, the money-sharing app, in order to collect money from those who weren’t carrying cash. Overall, the group raised over $1200 for their cause, all of which will be donated to Puerto Rico relief funds.
Other help has presented itself in the student’s connections, such as Sofia Tollinche’s past internship with state assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.
“His office, along with three other representatives, is serving as a donation point and right now we’re going to send in two vans next Friday to go pick up a lot of donations. They have boxes up to the ceiling… they’re getting donations from the school league, getting donations from local schools, it’s been crazy. They didn’t think [and] I didn’t think we were going to get so many donations and that’s only his office. I don’t know how many donations the other representatives are getting. It’s a big deal and I’m very happy with the outcome,” said Tollinche, a junior international studies and communication major, who is a Puerto Rico native.
The response, not just from community representatives, but also students from Manhattan College, has been moving to the students involved.
“Since it technically happened to us and our families, it’s not the same as someone being like ‘hey I’m not from this place but I want to raise money.’ The passion is different. They see our faces, they see how we have been affected by what happened. People are more willing to be involved because they see ‘oh you are a person that has been affected, I can see how this has affected your life so I can be more sympathetic to you’ so they’re more willing to donate,” said Ramallo.
The sympathy has been evident not just in benefits for Puerto Rico, but also for Hurricane Harvey and the Las Vegas shooting. Manhattan College has been known to respectfully respond to a hurting community which makes #DoItForPR a cause many are doing anything they can do to help, due in part to classmates being directly affected by it.
“It makes it real for students… they have class with them, they see them around campus, it’s their family. [It’s] their dads, moms, dogs, little brothers and sisters, you know? It’s real,” said Garcia.
Student response has been clear for #DoItForPR while they have been doing other events such as tabling on the quad during Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the month. It allows for people to see those who have been affected and talk to directly on their experiences.
“People that were just passing by [the tabling event] who know us, they were stopping and donate each time they passed by not just once. It was very nice to see people wanting to support the cause and help us,” said De Francisco.
Most recently, statistics have been showing that half of the citizens in Puerto Rico, whose total population is 3.4 million, have regained access to safe drinking water. Only five percent of the island has electricity. The students were open to sharing stories and the status of their families.
“I couldn’t get in contact with my parents after a week. I think I was the last one to get in contact with my mom. I had to wait like a week to get someone to answer my call and calls wouldn’t go through. It was pretty intense and hard. I complain that my mom calls twenty-eight times a day… but that day I was like, ‘you know, I’d rather have her call thirty times a day than [having] no idea where she was. I had no idea where she was or how any of my family was doing… I received a text from my mom a few days ago and she told me ‘you know what, you have to stay in the States, don’t come back because we are never going to be what we were… Don’t you dare come back because there is nothing for you here.’ To hear your mom to tell you that… that’s how we are right now,” said Tollinche.
The stories shared by these Puerto Rican students is the phrase used “luxury of talk to parents.” Many don’t have plans of going home, not until winter break, but that is still only a possibility. Tollinche, however, plans to return for a wedding in November but she is unsure if she’s mentally prepared to see the destruction of the place she grew up. She also plans on studying abroad in the winter intercession as per her mother’s instructions, so she doesn’t have to stay in the destruction back home.
“When you hear [stuff like that] from your parents, you know your parents are there to comfort you, that’s when you realize it’s bad. Like my dad, I find him like a fearless man and for him to tell me ‘I’m scared for this’ was really shocking. Then to not hear from them for a couple of days was more nerve-wracking… I saw videos of my street where I live but I didn’t even recognize it until they said it was my street. It’s very real for us even though we’re not there. I don’t know what will happen when we go back, I don’t know if it’s going to be very overwhelming to see it so differently,” said Alvarez.
For more ways to gain awareness of what is happening in their lives, the Social Action Suite plans to “donate” their window and allow the students to share their stories of what is going on back home and why they will continue to raise funds and collect supplies for their families and friends in a broken country.
What the group has planned next is the possibility of an off-campus benefit concert, more tabling and talking to more community representatives. Some students expressed guilt for being so far away from home while their families are hurting, but the spirit and love they express for their island knows no distance as they continue to cultivate more help.
“They embody the spirit of Puerto Rico: they’re resilient, they’re proud and they’re persistent. They’ll bounce back and it’s not easy for them. I know they’re all really anxious for what their family is going through… everyday life has stopped in Puerto Rico but they’re still managing, they’re going to classes and taking their tests and doing well. I think they set an example and while I might not be from there or directly impacted, I at least want to donate my time. But also, this community extends well beyond Puerto Rico,” said Garcia.