Away but united

Community unites to bring relief to Puerto Rico after hurricane


photo by Nitza Ariza

Spanish teacher Nitza Ariza’s class donations wait to get sent out to Disaster Relief Drive for Puerto Rico. Chess Club and Key Club collected supplies and sent them to Ariza’s room.

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the worst damage included power outages lasting eight days. But, when Category 5 Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, the island was left expecting much worse: no electricity for months to come.

After leaving more than half of Puerto Rico without drinking water and 95 percent of citizens without power, according to USA Today, Puerto Rico has a long recovery ahead. But, communities like Seminole County are trying to make the recovery less traumatic.

Multiple clubs such as Key Club and Chess Club have been collecting items in order to donate to Puerto Rico in hope of providing to those affected with basic resources to speed up the journey to recovery.

Starting Sept. 26-29 Key Club sponsor Nitza Ariza was accepting nonperishable food items and basic necessities such as flashlights, drinking water, first aid kits and sleeping bags. About 100 Key Club members and Spanish students donated throughout all three days in hope of providing enough items to be delivered to Puerto Rico.  

“Everyone is aware of the crisis in Puerto Rico due to hurricane Maria,” Ariza said. “We saw the opportunity to do something and we wanted to help.”

Once the donations were dropped off in Ariza’s room and collected, they were sent to Disaster Relief Drive for Puerto Rico in Lake Mary. This drive was sponsored by the Seminole County Public Schools ESOL and World Language Department.

The Disaster Relief Drive aims to provide aid and support to those affected in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria. On Sept. 29, the donations were delivered and once they arrive-, the government will be in charge of distributing them.

“I know that when the people of Puerto Rico receive the donations they will feel all the love and support of the entire world and know they are not alone in this long recovery,” Ariza said.

Those with family in Puerto Rico, like guidance counselor Michelle Cortes, also decided to join the movement and gather essential items such as canned food, baby products and feminine products to be sent to Puerto Rico.

With most of her and her husband’s family members living in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, Cortes was inspired to help out those in need after talking to her family. During a phone call with her cousin, Cortes heard her say how isolated and lonely she felt after the hurricane.

“They are right outside San Juan, and they haven’t seen any [donations],” Cortes said. “Hearing that crushed me because if they aren’t seeing it, imagine what the people up in the mountains are going through,”

After witnessing her family struggle in Puerto Rico after the storm, Cortes united with the Lake Nona Run Club, a Puerto Rican people based club that linked with Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), an organization whose purpose is to bring communities together to give the island enough resources to start recovering.

Cortes decided to start collecting items for this organization by emailing staff and asking for their help with donations.

Assistant principal Gisela Cotto decided to donate after her first-hand experience with the hardship of the storm. After Maria, those with family in Puerto Rico, like Cotto,  were left with no way of communication. Cotto could not contact her father for over a week, causing her to get ahold of the Marine Base main officer to do a well-check on her father.

Within two days, Cortes had collected monetary contributions and enough items to fully fill her car. Soon after, she personally delivered the items to the Lake Nona Run Club.

“People don’t have the basics to get through their day, whether it’s water or a granola bar,” Cortes said. “We’re not giving them luxuries, but we’re hoping that what they receive will be enough to get them through their day.”

Cortes is currently planning on continuing to donate to the affected citizens by working alongside students and looking for more organizations to collect items for in the hope of bettering the lives of Puerto Ricans.

As a community, Seminole County is also collecting items for relief purposes, however, the items will be given to families who come from Puerto Rico. Minnie Cordona, the Seminole County ESOL Department coordinator, organized this event aiming to help out transitioning families who are immigrating because of the hurricane.

All donated products will be sent to a warehouse where the families will be welcomed and allowed to take any necessary supplies with them.

“Backpacks and clothes will also be provided for the kids with all the supplies they need for school,” FTC clerk Joanie Rodriguez said.  “We’re trying to make it an easy transition for them to enroll at Hagerty or any Seminole County Schools.”

Staff such as Rodriguez and secretary Sylvia Seacrist were in charge of collecting paper and plastic bags at school for the event. The bags were later sent to the warehouse for families to put their items in.

“It’s beautiful to see our community unite and come together for a good cause in such a short period of time,” Cortes said.