Bristow Residents Collect Items for Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief

| September 26, 2017 | 0 Comments | Community

“Se Levanta!” means “Rise Up!”

With parents trapped in Puerto Rico, Bristow residents Nicole Gonzalez and Lorraine Villahermosa have organized a collection of relief aid to be delivered to the island.

As most are aware, Puerto Rico is in shambles with homes and infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Maria. Electricity and cell service is down, and many are going without food and medicine as towns struggle to communicate with their central government. Puerto Rico is facing monumental challenges and the situation has mainly been deteriorating over the past week. 

While many feel powerless to help, Gonzalez, her friends and family in Northern Virginia have become proactive, collecting necessary items and working with several distributions organizations to arrange for a quick delivery.

So many items are needed, said Gonzalez, “batteries, cots – because people are sleeping outside – and water – water, water, water.”

Gonzalez lists needed items on a digital flyer entitled “Se Levanta!” meaning “Rise Up!” Items include batteries; baby formula and diapers; canned goods and nonperishable foods; over the counter medicines such as Tylenol or stomach medicine; fans; cots and blankets; first aid kits and grooming supplies such as soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene products and clothes detergent.

Hearing there is a need, they are now requesting clothing and especially children’s clothing. They will not accept toys as it takes valued space away from more necessary items.

Gonzalez is asking people to contact her at 571-239-8559 or her sister Lorraine Villahermosa at 703-342-7481 to arrange a drop off. She is talking with various channels and expects a delivery with in a week.

View from the street outside Gonzalez’s father’s home in Puerto Rico.

From Virginia to Puerto Rico

Gonzalez and Villahermosa are two Bristow residents whose parents, who are Puerto Rican natives and Virginia citizens, were in the unfortunate position of visiting Puerto Rico when Maria hit.

The trip was suppose to be a cause for celebration.

“It was my grandmother’s birthday, last week,” said Gonzalez. “They all flew in Puerto Rico to surprise her, but Maria ended up surprising them.”

The family was staying at a resort on Southeastern end of the island near where Maria touched down. The town had to be evacuated, so the family drove to their childhood home. There they hunkered down, hoping to ride out the storm.

When the storm cleared, the home was still standing, but the worst was yet to come. Gonzalez warned her parents of flash flooding.

“We were there only line of communications to the outside world. Through the grace of God they were able to get some cell phone reception,” Gonzalez said.

The family could not imagine flooding in their area, but within an hour, the waters started pouring in, flooding the home and streets.

Neighbors helped them to evacuate once more but after a neighbor’s SUV took on too much water, they were forced traveled on the back of a flat bed truck.

Another view of the street outside the family home flooded after Maria.

Throughout the ordeal, Gonzalez’s family was still in a much better position than most with another family member’s home where they could seek refuge, and a water filtration system that her parents brought with them.

They shared clean water with others; and since they were one of the few people who had cell phone service, they relayed messages to the family living in New York, Boston and Florida who had no other means of communications.

Still Gonzalez and her sister felt they needed to do more. With food, supplies and medicine washed away in the storm, they knew Puerto Rico needed supplies as soon as possible. 

“These people need it now,” said Gonzales, so they started reaching out to others they knew who had families in Puerto Rico and they formed a group and collected needed items.

Then they then searched for organizations that would accept relief items and found the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. The Se Levanta group spreading the word through their networks. Then, with her friends encouraging her to expand their reach, Gonzalez posted on popular local Facebook sites. 

Donations started pouring in, but by this time, Gonzales learned that the PRFAA was at capacity, and her items will not be able to be delivered on the first few flights to the island.

Determined to get the items to the Puerto Rican people as soon as possible, Gonzales is considering alternatives. She has several options: wait it out with PRFAA; work directly with airlines; rent an airline pod to transport; go through another D.C. relief organization; or work with a Virginia Task Force, which is expected to fly more people to the island.

She wants to do what is most reliable and expedient.

“It’s dire. This is a humanitarian crisis at this point,” she said, explaining that she learned from a contact in Puerto Rico that hospitals are running on generators almost shut down.

Items needed for donation.

Since announcing the relief effort, she has been pleasantly surprised by how supportive and very generous people in the Greater Gainesville area have been. She has two rooms full of items and her sister had six large Amazon packages delivered to her door.

Gonzalez said she would be overwhelmed with joy if more people wanted to help. She asks everyone to not forgot Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

“The situation is just so bad. People think of it as out of sight out of mind and don’t feel like it’s a part of us, but Puerto Ricans, we’re American citizens. The Mayor [of San Juan, Yulin Cruz] said ‘don’t forget about us.'” 

Although she is not publicizing her address, Gonzalez asks those wanting to make a donations to call or text her at 571-239-8559. Besides providing a drop off location, she can explain to them the effort and answer questions they may have. 

In addition to the two locations in Bristow, friends of Gonzalez are collecting in Chantilly, Leesburg and Falls Church. Their contact information is available upon request for those in living or working in neighboring counties. 

Bristow Beat will update with more information as it becomes available.

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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