Families across Puerto Rico are suffering major water, fuel, and food shortages due to the devastating impact of Hurricane Fiona. USI has made a commitment to supporting these families, and you can too through our donation link.
By: Kristie Stutler
Each year, tourists flock to Puerto Rico to enjoy the natural wonders, cultural and historical buildings, and 300 miles of coastline that boasts some of the most beautiful beaches Mother Nature has to offer. Even in 2020, with all that was happening in the world, nearly 3 million people made their way to this beautiful island.
Beauty Meets Disaster
But the beauty of the island does little to make up for the fact that Puerto Rico is also prey to repeated natural disasters. The death toll from Category 5 Hurricane Maria in 2017 was over 3000. Then in January 2020, a 6.4 earthquake destroyed the Southwest part of the island, further aggravating the infrastructure of schools, employment, and housing for families. This was right before the rise of COVID-19 which impacted the world. However, in Puerto Rico, the pandemic led to a complete lockdown of the entire island affecting primary sources of income for Puerto Ricans such as education, food distribution, health services, and tourism, which in Puerto Rico equates to about 5.5 billion dollars annually.
On Friday, September 16th, this ever-resilient island was hit with heavy rainfall which confirmed islanders’ worst fears—that it was only a preview of what was to come. By Sunday, Hurricane Fiona had made landfall leaving devastating flooding and landslides in her wake. The 130-mile winds knocked out power, left families without access to water, and once again created a basic needs crisis. This disaster will undoubtedly impact the economic viability of the people who live there and the island as a whole. That is an issue that will have to be left for another day. Every day since Sunday has been filled with much more important matters.
Commitment to Families
Since August 2019, USI has been supporting over 500 families in Bayshore Villas and Renaissance Square in San Juan and Villas at Emerald Vistas in Caguas. As an organization that works in distressed communities undergoing revitalization, the dedicated staff of USI is accustomed to working with families in crises.
But once again, our staff on the ground find themselves in a situation eerily similar to the early days of COVID, responding to the emergent needs of the community, in a crisis that also impacts them as people. Over 40% of the island does not have water and up to 90% do not have power. On top of that, the percentage of families who are experiencing extensive emotional disturbance or traumatization is surely much higher. Like the economic toll, the trauma toll becomes a matter that will have to wait. At least until the devastation of the day no longer demands our undivided attention.
What USI is Doing on the Ground
Since Sunday, September 18th, our staff has worked tirelessly, mobilizing resources and connecting with partners to ensure that families’ basic needs are met. Securing families’ access to food, water, needed medications, and support are all top priorities. The island is also facing a diesel outage, so the staff was able to procure one last dispatch of diesel per property which will continue to provide energy to our residents through generators at our community centers.
USI is fortunate to have amazing partners like Juan Carlos Colon, who are always willing to help however they can. Juan is the owner of Centro Ahorros chain grocery store at Renaissance Square, which staff contacted to purchase boxes of water through the supermarket. He was not only willing to oblige but also willing to assist with food as available.
At the Bayshore Villas Community, we were able to deliver 255 hot meals to families in partnership with the Program for Social Development of the Municipality of San Juan. On a day USI couldn’t provide hot meals, a group of residents came together and ordered pizza for the entire community. Our staff was able to participate doing the outreached, so the entire community could participate of that beautiful gesture.
Our staff are working with residents to set up a community kitchen and distribute hot meals for impacted families. In Renaissance Square, residents in collaboration with the Iniciativa Comunitaria organization coordinated delivery of hot meals for 60+ households (impacting around 32 families). Meal delivery will continue to happen while Puerto Rico remains in an emergency status. This level of outreach will continue in the unrelenting 100-degree heat until the needs of the day subside.
These efforts are not all that USI staff has done to support families in our communities across the island of Puerto Rico. Our staff, while also navigating the aftermath of the hurricane in their own lives, committed to also supporting normalcy and community building across our three sites.
Please review a full report of all efforts USI has put in place in response to the hurricane:
Additional Efforts: USI Bayshore, Residents & Municipality of San Juan Collaboration
As part of the efforts to help our residents that lost their food due to lack of electrical power; with the help and connections from some of our very own residents and MBM staff, we were able to partner up with the Municipality of San Juan and the Mayor of San Juan, Miguel Romero, who visited Bayshore and held an event on September 30th to deliver food vouchers, water, food boxes and flashlights with batteries to the residents. A total of 83 households were able to participate and receive aid.
Community and Connection
At Bayshore Villas, we received a donation of toys and frozen goodies. The donation came from one of our residents, Jose Rodriguez. Jose is a community leader in Puerto Rico where he serves Dominican communities in Puerto Rico. We received more than 50 boxes of toys that were used to gift our children during the various events we have planned, such as Read for the Record which happened at the end of October, and some cool events happening around Christmastime. The frozen food received (pizza, bread, chicken pot pies, and cake) was delivered in an impromptu gathering at the end of October in the Community Center for our residents. We appreciate the beautiful gesture of one of our own and we are grateful to continue to receive blessings for our community.
Approximately 25 kids ages 0 to 12, participated in the Read for the Record event. Special thanks to our resident, Graciela Jimenez, who read the book Nigel and the Moon to our kids, and to Ivan Rios, a resident and fellow artist who helped us with the art activity. As part of the event, the kids were able to read this year’s book, Colored Stars. Their activity was to write to the moon about what they would want to be when they grow up. The kids danced, played, and received candy and toys and had a blast enjoying the activities.
Thankfully, our community is in better shape now, but our work is far from over. We will continue to work to achieve normalcy and connect them with resources as needed.
Now and then, let us not forget Puerto Rico.
How You Can Help Right Now:
We suggest donating to the Hispanic Federation or directly to USI families living in Renaissance Square and Bayshore Villas in San Juan and Villas at Emerald Vistas in Caguas.
Your donations would directly provide families access to basic needs like food, water, medicine, and fuel. We are not forgetting Puerto Rico in our commitment to ALL families will be stable and thriving, and you don’t have to either.
About the Author: Kristie Stutler is the Vice President for Policy and Influence at USI. She has a Masters of Science in Social Work, 16 years of experience working with system-involved youth, and 3 years of experience leading statewide juvenile justice reform in Kentucky. Prior to her current position at USI, she was the Southern Regional Vice President. Kristie is a graduate of the Annie E. Casey Children and Family Fellowship, is a Certified Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Practitioner, and is certified in Diversity and Inclusion through Cornell University.