Philly's Puerto Rican community raises $120,000 for relief efforts

Elected officials and non-profit leaders announce the Philly Puerto Rican community’s contributions to hurricane relief efforts thus far.

With damage estimates running in the tens of billions of dollars in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico, community leaders and nonprofits in the city’s Puerto Rican community said Wednesday they have collected more than $120,000 for relief efforts, as well as pallets of water, diapers and nonperishable foodstuffs that will be delivered to the island.

“I can assure you that we will do the best that we can […] to get these goods donated by our folks to the hands of folks, whether they’re in Puerto Rico or folks who’ve recently come here and need help as they get stabilized,” said Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez.

At a news conference at a lent warehouse space in the Juniata neighborhood, elected officials and nonprofit leaders presented $25,000 of those funds to the Salvation Army to further its continuing aid on the island. Another $25,000, Quiñones-Sánchez announced, would pay for batteries, toiletries, water filters, and other practical support.

The money and goods were collected by Unidos Pa’ PR — a group of 30 organizations that first formed after Irma battered the island weeks before Maria’s landfall.

Lt. Col. Stephen Banfield of the Salvation Army said 25 workers from the Philadelphia region have been on the ground in Puerto Rico with the agency’s relief efforts.

Donated goods help, Banfield said, but monetary donations are of paramount importance; containers might take some time before island residents see them.

“The monetary support does allow us to get help down there more quickly and help stimulate the economy,” he said.

For Puerto Ricans who have made their way to Philadelphia in the aftermath of the storm, the city’s Office of Emergency Management opened a Disaster Assistance Service Center on Wednesday to assist in their transition.

“This is our touch point for those that are here in Philadelphia, displaced by the storms, that are in need,” said the office’s director, Daniel Bradley.  “We know there are folks in the community that have been impacted. We know that they’re here; we want to provide a central space so we can begin that recovery process.”

OEM understands that the recovery process will be an ongoing ordeal, he said.

“It will remain open as long as we assess there is need,” Bradley said.

The recovery is proceeding slowly. Only 16 percent of Puerto Rico has power – a problem for both telecommunications and health providers. The death toll, 45, is expected to rise. And on Tuesday, Gov. Ricardo Rosello wrote a letter to Congress pleading for additional aid, citing an analysis that estimates Maria caused $95 billion in damage.

State Reps. Angel Cruz and Emilio Vazquez, both Philadelphia Democrats, said legislative changes will have to be part of the island’s recovery. President Trump’s waiver of a law that effectively inhibits shipments to Puerto Rico expired Sunday night.

They have written a resolution asking Congress and Trump to allocate additional funding and reinstate the waiver so recovery efforts can resume unabated and future shipping revenue can offset the island’s debt.

Vasquez pointed to the bipartisan nature of the outpouring of support and donations.

“We have to fight for the same cause,” Vasquez said. “This is not political, this is humane.”