PERTH AMBOY, NJ - Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, lashing the island with 30 hours of Category 5 winds. By September 21, following an emergency conference call with 33 New Jersey leaders, “New Jersey for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief” was born.
Fund leaders gathered with elected officials today in Perth Amboy to present the American Red Cross with a $10,000 check, vowing that much more is being raised for the relief charity, as well as the Salvation Army of Puerto Rico and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico. Attendees shared stories of family and friends who are struggling to recuperate and rebuild. Many said they have yet to hear from loved ones who were caught in the eye of the hurricane more than two weeks ago.
New Jersey for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief is sponsored and spearheaded by the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey and leaders of New Jersey's half-million-strong Puerto Rican community to rally behind friends and family on the island suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
During an event on October 6, hosted by Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz at the 1st Constitution Bank on Fayette Street, elected officials discussed the ongoing needs in Puerto Rico, especially in the western portion of the island, sections of which are still without power, water and food.
A ceremonial check was presented to Christy Hodde, chapter executive of the American Red Cross, New Jersey, which has dispatched 13 rescue workers to the commonwealth. Fund organizers were quick to note their ceremonial check was written with a dry erase marker, as it will be repeatedly used to present donations to many more charities in the coming weeks, months and years.
State Sen. Nellie Pou, representing Paterson, said Washington D.C. is quick to claim that everything is “hunky dory” in Puerto Rico, when everyone knows the real truth: People are still without basic necessities. Congress needs to treat the 3.5 million U.S. citizens living on the island just like any other Americans in desperate need of help, Pou said.
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, who represents Elizabeth, agreed, adding there are container ships of food and water sitting in the harbor, rather than being transported directly to the towns and villages that have been devastated. “We are talking about peoples’ lives here,” she said. “This is not a political issue, but a people issue.”
Assemblyman Craig Coughlin, who represents Perth Amboy, said it is “truly remarkable” how quickly fund organizers have raised money and said it was critical to keep the plight of the commonwealth on the front page throughout the state.
“As American citizens, it is our moral duty to get them the care they need,” he said. “The people of Puerto Rico need and deserve our help.”
Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ron Rios said it is difficult to comprehend what is happening in Puerto Rico, noting that while his car has air conditioning, the people of Puerto Rico have been without climate control on humid days that easily climb over 90 degrees, such as in San Juan today.
“These are humans in need of care,” Rios said. “I can’t thank enough the people who have gotten involved to help. It is going to be a long time before people get their lives back together.”
The coalition has been working closely with commonwealth leaders; its honorary chair is former Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock. At today’s event was McClintock’s son, Kevin McClintock, who brought words of appreciation.
McClintock said many grateful Americans in the commonwealth have been closely watching the New Jersey fund and calling it “an inspiration.” He said he is “proud that so many Puerto Rican leaders in New Jersey care about the Puerto Rican community on the island.”
“When the Puerto Rican community bans together, there is nothing that we can’t accomplish,” McClintock said. “It is up to all of us in the diaspora to force Congress to act. Congress has committed to $13 billion in aid. But there is $100 billion in damage. We need a lot more help.”
The relief fund, a non-profit, charitable entity with a 501c3 pending, is a one-stop source for people to donate directly to island-based charities. The fund is transparent and focused on delivering immediate, targeted aid.
Fund organizers say cash donations are encouraged, as opposed to in-kind donations that require sorting, boxing and logistical expense. Cash donations allow reputable organizations, such as the New Jersey for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief, to strategically support professional disaster relief agencies.
To learn more about the relief fund, as well as the board members involved, please visit nj4pr.org. Donations are now being accepted through the site. Supporters can also call 1-833-NJ-HELPS.