PATERSON, NJ - More than 250 people braved the snow to raise funds for "Paterson Partners with Puerto Rico Support-A-School Fundraiser" Saturday at St. Gerard's Church. The night of food, music, and dancing raised more the $12,000 to support one of the many schools devastated when Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in September 2017.
Paterson Public Schools teamed up with local organizations, and worked with local businesses to make the four-hour event happen.
Paterson Board of Education President Oisin Castillo said the entire community came together as a whole to help the people of Puerto Rico. Members of the committee that organized the event, as well as the volunteers and donors come from Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican backgrounds, but, Castillo said,tonight, "we are all Puerto Rican."
The evening began with the singing of the 'Star Spangled Banner' by Rosa Parks School 10th grader Carlos Castillo. It was followed by school senior Isabela Leanor singing 'La Borinqueña,' the territorial anthem of Puerto Rico.
Lourdes Garcia, Director of Bilingual Education and World Languages served as Chair for the committee. Garcia explained that they saw a need to help the people of the U.S. territory and wanted to find a way to help. Paterson is home to a large Puerto Rican community, some families going back generations. Some residents of the island temporarily relocated to Paterson as homes, businesses and schools are still waiting for repair.
Many of the schools that were not devastated by the hurricane are being used as medical facilities and temporary shelters, further interrupting education of students, according to Deputy Superintendent of Schools Susana Peron. More than 1,000 schools are closed, either because of damage or because they are being used for other purposes, she told TAPinto Paterson.
Garcia said she and her colleagues know the impact of an interrupted education on children, so helping the schools was the perfect choice. The focus of their efforts will be to supply the school they adopted with reading material and art supplies. A trip to the island is planned for April.
Taina Pou, was instrumental in getting the community involved. She was asked by the steering committee to participate and was "all in." Contributions from the community is what made the effort a success, she said, with everything from the food, both homemade and from local restaurants, to the entertainment, was donated.
Restaurant donors for the event were: La Fe, Estacion caribe, Wize Guys, El Provocon, Pepos, El Tipico, El Sabor Tropical, Chicken Supreme, Costambar, and The Brownstone. MDN Dance in Belleville and the band 150 Project donated their talents to entertain the guests.
During dinner, a video created by the students of Pablo Colon Bardacon school was shown. The student-made video included interviews with educators and students detailing how they were affected by the interruption to their education. At the end of the video, the students gathered outside and shouted "Thank You Paterson" as they waved flags of Puerto Rico.
As music played, and guests danced. Peron explained that service to others is as beneficial to yourself as it is to others. "Dreams come true when you model things for the kids" She looked toward her colleagues on the committee when she said "we have to model it so the kids can see it." Casillo added "this unity will continue through the rest of Paterson."
With the evening raising about $12,000 for the relief effort, added to an earlier event earlier that raised $9,200, Pou declared the evening “a tremendous success.”