Fund-raising mixes with festivity at Philly's Puerto Rican Day parade

Salsa music was blasting from the little portable speaker that Miguel Rosado brought to Sunday’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, but his festiveness was tempered by worries of family in hurricane-battered Puerto Rico.

Rosado hadn’t heard from his father and other relatives who live in the northwestern town of Aguadilla since Hurricane Maria hit last week. He knows of many other people who are having a similar experience.

“I’m trying to get ideas for how to fund-raise and help,” Rosado said. Within minutes, volunteers carrying white collection buckets for hurricane-relief donations passed where Rosado had set up along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway to watch the parade. Rosado pulled a $20 bill from his wallet and tucked it in one of the buckets.

Enticing such giving was part of the objective behind Unidos Pa’ Puerto Rico, a coalition of local groups and elected officials trying to raise $100,000 for recovery operations in Puerto Rico. Raising awareness of the post-hurricane crisis in Puerto Rico and making it easy for people to help is its mission. Volunteers collected money not only during Sunday’s parade but also at the post-parade BoricuaFest and Coqui Festival. All donations will be managed and distributed by local nonprofit Concilio.

“We are resilient people. We are already fighting,” said Madeline Neris Negron, one of the Unidos Pa’ PR volunteers soliciting donations from parade watchers. “We don’t want people coming in and doing the work for us. We just need the materials and the tools so that we can get up and do it ourselves. We need to rebuild our schools, we need to make sure our hospitals are OK.”

Like so many at the parade, Negron has serious concerns about family on the island. Her son, father, mother and several other relatives are stranded in San Lorenzo, a municipality in Puerto Rico’s eastern central region. They have a generator and little else.

“First thing my father said to me was, ‘Mamita, we don’t have any leaves,’ ” Negron said. “He always associated that with food … If you have leaves, you have vegetation. That’s food.”

Negron said her father grew his own plantains, mangoes, bananas and other fruits and vegetables. All were swept away by Hurricane Maria.

Her aunts lost their homes. “But they are alive,“ she said. “They just ask for water and food, batteries, gas containers … and lots of prayers.”

Gov. Wolf, who attended Sunday’s parade, announced that he would be donating $15,000 from his inaugural fund to the Puerto Rican relief efforts.

“Rebuilding after this merciless storm is going to be difficult, but the spirit of the Puerto Ricans is not easily broken,” Wolf said. “We know that the people of Puerto Rico will bounce back.”

Officials have said it could be several months before most of the island has power again.

Locally, Claudia Colon, an environmental lawyer, said she joined the Puerto Rican Conference for Women last week as a way to get involved and help. She is from the northern coastal town of Manati and moved to Philadelphia a year ago.

“My entire family is back there,” she said. “It was a horrifying event. … I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to talk to my mom and dad.”

Colon said not everyone has been as fortunate. Many of the bridges leading to some of the smaller towns in the island’s mountains have been “washed away,” she said.

“I think that’s one of the biggest anxieties us Puerto Ricans that are not there are feeling right now,” Colon said. “Not being able to be in touch with them.”