This all started because of a brave young woman who was determined to drop what she was doing and save her community. She did not see it as a choice.
Aliette Negron, who now lives and works in Florida has traveled the world, but her most important trip may have been the one she made this past Saturday, arriving home in Puerto Rico with 450 lbs. of supplies to fight for the beloved town in which she grew up, Las Piedras.
As for me, after watching numerous news stories of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the lack of aid they were receiving at that point- five days after the storm -I was heartbroken. When I went to work on Monday, I saw Aliette who told me she received a 20 second voicemail that morning stating her mother was safe, but her family, neighbors and extended family members, all living in Las Piedras, had only 3 days left of food and water. Aliette’s concern was that other fundraising and government aid would not reach smaller towns out of the metropolitan area in time. She knew she had to act.
Aliette booked a flight to Puerto Rico and planned to work extra hours to purchase as many supplies as she could carry in suitcases to make sure they had food and water. We had to help her.
Day One: Monday, September 25th/gofundme
That night, I set up a gofundme page, https://www.gofundme.com/supplies-for-las-piedras and asked friends and relatives for help. I was hoping we could raise at least a little to help Aliette, her family and community. The donations started coming in immediately. We were thrilled over the generosity of the donors, who were such a diverse group of people: Americans of all backgrounds who just wanted to help other Americans.
Day Two and Three: Tuesday and Wednesday, September 26th and 27th
Over 55 donations came in totaling $2,650 through the site. This does not include other people who dropped off supplies personally to help. We planned that dollars raised would to also pay for baggage fees, shipping costs and cash to send with Aliette since ATMs weren’t working.
Day Four: Thursday, September 28th/ Figuring Out The Immediate Need
We shopped at Costco, Aldis, the Dollar Store, anywhere we can think of to stretch our dollars. We had enough funds to send five suitcases with 450 lbs. of supplies with Aliette on her flight home. These supplies included 250 lbs. of food , 354 diapers, 8.3 lbs. of baby formula, 321 batteries, flashlights, medical supplies, 300 aqua tabs that purify water (each tab can purify 75 ml of water), a water filtration system, coloring books and other children’s toys. We learned from Aliette that there was a specific request for aid from a neighbor who is diabetic. We purchased 2 full blood glucose monitoring systems.
It has also come to our attention that there is an animal shelter in Las Piedras. So, we are making sure to send down some supplies for our furry friends.
We hear on Thursday that Spirit airlines, where Aliette had booked her flight told her they would waive the baggage fees for two of the suitcases.
Day Five: Friday, September 29th
Now, to pack the most important necessities: The suitcases are heavy. as we tried to figure out Friday night what to send first. So many friends and co-workers are helping.
Becca Melley- via Instagram All five suitcases packed and ready to go to Las Piedras, Puerto Rico tomorrow morning. All of these supplies have been donated by over 55 people in 4 days. Safe travels Aliette ! You got this! #suppliesforlaspiedras #supportpuertorico
We also included a card to let the people of Las Piedras know, they were not alone, and that these supplies were being sent by just a bunch of people on the mainland who cared about them. I wrote all the names of the donors on the card.
Day 6: Saturday, September 30th
Aliette gets to airport and Spirit advises her they would waive the baggage fees on all five of the suitcases, saving funds that will go toward more supplies. The flight was delayed a bit, but Aliette and the supplies took off to San Juan and Las Piedras.
Update to donors on the gofundme site. Our girl made it to Puerto Rico !!!!
Since Spirit waived ALL the baggage fees, this allows Aliette $300 more dollars while on the ground to be able purchase gas, ice, and whatever else she can get her hands on. Thank you Spirit Airlines!
We have not been able to make contact with her directly, but a friend who was able to meet her at the airport confirmed that Aliette met her sister who picked her up and she had all five suitcases and was headed to Las Piedras.
Aliette had not been able to make direct contact with her mother since the hurricane, I know their reunion this evening will be heartfelt and give them both piece of mind at the very least.
On this day, 450lbs of supplies made it to Las Piedras because of the work of such an incredible group of people to make sure at least one town could receive immediate relief.
I also sent this update to all the donors on Saturday:
˜There will be people in Las Piedras eating today.
There will be people that have access to clean water.
There will mothers that can now change their babies diapers and feed them.
There will be children that get to be children again with some of the toys we sent (even if it’s just for a little bit).”
All of our donors did this.
And even if it’s a small, temporary solution to the long term reconstruction, it’s a win for humanity.
Thanks to each and every one of you for wanting to help Las Piedras. Thank you for wanting to make a difference even if it only reaches one town. We know there is so much suffering everywhere on the island, my mother’s homeland.
I know many people want to contribute to send aid to the people of Puerto Rico, but many are not sure how or what the best way to do so is. It is hard to donate money and not see tangible results. Everyone wonders exactly how their donated resources are being allocated. For me, and perhaps many of you, this is an opportunity to know what I am donating and where it is going.
There is still an entire second round of supplies that will be sent as soon as possible due to the generous donations. Post Offices are opening up, and we have funds left to purchase a third round as well, so donations are still very much welcomed.
Please consider contributing any amount and share this link with friends, family, co-workers, or even a stranger that wants to help. We will continue to send supplies and offer this community relief as long as we can. They have a long way to go on the road ahead.
Rebecca Melley grew up in New Britain. She is a graduate of UCONN School of Business and has been a contributor to CTLatinoNews.com since 2012.