Area Puerto Ricans want to see a local relief effort for battered island
Nearly a week since Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, groups of Boston-area Puerto Ricans say they are anxiously trying to figure out ways to help and get aid to the island, with some expressing frustration at the lack of a plan from the city or state to centralize and promote relief efforts.
Local residents, organizations, and business leaders eager to help Puerto Rico held a scattered series of meetings, fund-raisers, and supply drives over the weekend, but many said they wish the city had organized an event like the successful “Help for Houston” drive after Hurricane Harvey, in which residents were encouraged to bring donations to City Hall.
While the city has posted information on its website about how residents can help, and the state has reached out to emergency management officials in Puerto Rico offering assistance, local Puerto Rican residents say they wish the government would organize one central relief effort here.
Henry Monroig, a pastor at Hyssop Christian Church in Dorchester, said he reached out to Mayor Martin J. Walsh on social media and through his reelection campaign e-mail to find out if the city is organizing a drive, and to draw attention to the donation drive at his church, but he has yet to hear back.
“I’m over here wondering, what are our state officials doing? It’s been five days. Post something to bring awareness,” Monroig said. “It’s sad that we haven’t heard anything from our mayor or from the governor. There’s no response; it’s something that is scary. As a Puerto Rican, I feel left out.”
Puerto Ricans make up the largest Latino group in Massachusetts, and many are desperate to help. But with phone and power lines down on the island, people need to be patient, said Edwin Alicea, president of the Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts in Boston, which held an informational meeting on relief strategies, attended by about 200 people.
“There’s a few folks wondering why the mayor and the governor haven’t come out to say anything on the news,” Alicea said. “It’s more the fear of the unknown. The sooner [city and state officials] put something out, the better it will be for many of us.”
Governor Charlie Baker told reporters Monday that state emergency responders “stand ready” to help as they await word from federal and Puerto Rican officials.
“Our goal is to make sure we’re doing what the people on the ground there who are managing the disaster say they want us to do,” Baker said.
He said he has been told that what’s needed at the moment is cash donations to reputable organizations, such as the American Red Cross. “If you send cash to these organizations, they can turn it around and invest it in the communities that are desperately trying to get back on their feet,” Baker said.
Walsh’s office said city officials have met to discuss how Boston can help Puerto Rico.
The city plans to “stay in close communication with officials from Puerto Rico to determine how we can best assist them as they transition from a search and rescue effort to the next phase of recovery,” according to a statement from the city.
Coordinating the growing number of donation events and crowdfunding campaigns sprouting up in the area will be the focus of a meeting Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at Villa Victoria Center for the Arts, organized by Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, a nonprofit community development corporation that provides services to Villa Victoria, a heavily Puerto Rican housing development in Boston’s South End. Chief executive director Vanessa Calderón-Rosado said a representative from Walsh’s office will be at the meeting, which will also be streamed live on Facebook.
“All sorts of efforts happening here are fragmented,” Calderón-Rosado said. “People are anxious to help. They’re ready to get to work, and I hope that [after the meeting] we’ll have a good sense of what that work is, who will do it, how can we do it.”