As all of North Salem knows, my dad, Herbert F. Geller, along with my beloved late mother, Gloria, have lived in town for 52 years. For more than half that time they spent their winters in the seaside town of Luquillo, Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rico of my youth was a vibrant place–full of exciting music, delicious food and the gorgeous national rain forest, El Yunque, which provided a glorious verdant backdrop to their apartment complex at Playa Azul. The best part was the people—even with my high school Spanish, people were warm, friendly and humorous. I remember the cook at my favorite empanada stand on the road to El Yunque patiently making me work on my accent before filling my order. I may have forgotten much of my Spanish, but I still get compliments on my pronunciation thanks to him.
My parents spent 28 winters in Luquillo, until my mother’s health no longer allowed her to be away from a major medical center. They missed the island and all of their friends greatly, but Dad kept in touch with a number of people and assumed everyone was doing well–until Sept. 20. That was when a storm named Maria left a path of devastation on La Isla Encantada.
We were heartbroken to hear that the hurricane hit the northern part of the island first, which is where San Juan, and 30 miles to the west, Luquillo are located. Power lines and light poles were torn down, roofs ripped off, windows and doors blown out, and the farms and our beautiful El Yunque were stripped of vegetation. The entire island lost its lush green coat.
You know what came afterward. The reports are true. There’s little power, fresh food or medicine. People lost their homes or are camping on foundations that barely retain their walls. Sanitation and disease are becoming increasing threats as little aid makes its way across the rutted roads.
Our family was concerned. What could we do to help? Anyone who knows Herb knows that he is a man of action. We started getting nightly calls—how can we help our friends in Luquillo? The children and grandchildren made donations, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Then a miracle happened.
Dad might be the idea man, but it was my late mother who made those dreams a reality. She must have gotten an audience with the Big Director Above, because on her birthday I got a message from my sister-in-law, Beth West—she was thinking of flying to San Juan with a load of supplies for a former high school classmate she had just reached—in Luquillo, of all places.
Friends, you can’t make this stuff up.
So we, her family and friends, got busy and we raised enough money for her to deliver three huge duffel bags of supplies, the entire wish list from her friends in Luquillo, who are caring for elderly people and banding together with 15 other local families to take care of one another.
Beth, who is in international education and whose fluent Spanish puts mine to shame, flew down and handed the supplies to her friends, who couldn’t believe she actually made it happen. It was an amazing moment.
But this is not the end. Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are still in dire need. There is no fresh produce because the hurricane wiped it all away. Since there is no power, no gas, and damaged roads, no one can work and no one is earning money to pay for basic necessities—if they can get them. People living in the mountains and on the western coast are so far from the supplies in San Juan that they are growing desperate.
We’re heading into the holiday season. Please consider giving to those in need. When the American people pull together, we can accomplish amazing things. With your help, Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico will rise again.