Puerto Ricans in Connecticut wasted little time in organizing relief efforts to address the potential humanitarian and economic disaster that may confront their homeland after being hit by Hurricane Irma, the largest Atlantic storm ever recorded.
Although preliminary reports indicate that Puerto Rico escaped the full fury of the massive Category 5 hurricane, the state’s Puerto Rican community and organizations have already begun developing strategies to address some of the logistical challenges involved in helping the island, which is already economically distressed and has an aging infrastructure for its electricity.
In the forefront of the relief efforts was the newly organized Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda. This bipartisan alliance of political and community leaders from across the state took on the challenge of coordinating a statewide support campaign, which included recruiting volunteers and setting up a system for processing donations.
“Mostly everyone who is interested is working through the Agenda,” said Joseph Rodriguez, a founder of the organization and deputy state director for U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal.
“We noticed several groups attempting to organize efforts and thanks to the “agenda”, we were able to use the group’s statewide platform as a way to coordinate statewide efforts,” Rodriguez said.
At the same time, Latino groups in communities such as Willimantic and New Britain also wasted little time in preparing to help the island survive whatever Irma threw its way.
In addition, state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez announced that Latino elected officials will host a series of events for Hurricane Irma relief over the next several weeks in municipalities across the state. She reported that the first event will take place at the New Britain Puerto Rican Festival on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 151 High Street.
“We have seen, time and again, we cannot wait until after disaster strikes or rely on government assistance,” was the call issued on Tuesday by the CT Puerto Rican Agenda, which was using social media and its statewide platform as a way to coordinate efforts.
Jason Ortiz, chairman of the Puerto Rican Agenda, was playing a major role in spreading the word about the group’s relief efforts and addressing how the supplies would be gathered and shipped to the island.
Ortiz said he hoped many of the logistical details would be clarified at a Thursday morning meeting at the Center for Latino Progress on Park Street in Hartford.
Those attending would include people from the CT Puerto Rican Agenda, San Juan Center and the Hispanic Health Council, said Yanil Teron, the executive director for the Center for Latino Progress. The goal, she said, is to devise the “best action plan for relief for Puerto Rico with organizations from all of the state.
Social media would play an important role in the CT Puerto Rican Agenda’s endeavors. The organization, formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, used its website and online communities, such as Facebook, to keep the Latino community and its leaders informed of what was happening, as well as to direct those wanting to help to a Hurricane Irma relief form.
The volunteer form, available at ctpuertoricoagenda.com, gave those interested a variety of ways to help. These included helping translate and communicate with families on the island, making donations of money and supplies, and helping at the collection site. On Tuesday, Ortiz said the form had attracted 130 responses, “plus nonstop other messages.”
The form also sought volunteers to contact elected officials. This related to making sure that Puerto Rico’s needs would not be overlooked by government agencies already busy with flood relief in Texas and the potential impact of Irma on heavily populated Florida.
The CT Puerto Rican Agenda stated: “Our primary goal is to ensure our island receives all of the direct immediate disaster relief it needs. This means forcing our elected officials in Congress to treat Puerto Rico with the same urgency as other national disasters.”
A similar focus was stated by Carmelo Rodriguez, chairman of the New Britain Latino Coalition, which also was involved in hurricane relief Wednesday evening as Irma moved across Puerto Rico. “Our main concern is that Congress and all elected officials send the proper relief to Puerto Rico in the same manner.”
In this regard, a major victory was achieved on Tuesday when President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration, not only for Florida, but also for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. This will allow Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to remove debris and give other services that will largely be paid for by the U.S. government.
In Willimantic, Council members James Flores and Dennis O’Brien, Yolanda Negron, Dawn Niles and state Rep. Susan Johnson were organizing relief efforts. “We will be at WECS 90.1 FM on Sunday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. informing the members of the public where they can donate,” Negron said.
In addition, Negron said she and other Rotary members, including Charlie Wynn, Jamie and Kit Eves and Colin Rice, help process donations which will be funneled to Rotary in Puerto Rico.
In New Britain, Carmelo Rodriguez reported, Rodriguez added, “We have already begun the collection of donations for Texas, Puerto Rico, and Florida. The churches are moving, however, with all these hurricanes it is important that we assess where the need may be greater and the proper means to go through.”
While relief efforts were being coordinated by Ortiz and other Agenda members, Joseph Rodriguez was concentrating on a different aspect of this mission. I am … focusing on how I can connect “on the ground efforts here in Connecticut with groups like FEMA, CT National Guard, and Americares to ultimately get such aid to the island.”