R1SE Bristow to Puerto Rico: We Got a Plane!

| September 30, 2017 | 0 Comments | Community

Boxes of diapers and other baby items fill Villahermosa’s basement living room.

“WE GOT A PLANE!!” said Nicole Gonzalez smartphone in hand, doing a little dance in front of extra large boxes of Luvs piled behind here. “This is so cool!”

Thursday is the first time Gonzalez met with Bristow Beat in person. We were standing in the basement of her sister’s Braemar home, surrounded by Luvs diapers and large Amazon boxes.

It was one of at least two command centers, where the women juggle home, family, children and jobs with what had become a full-time job in and of itself, collecting items for Puerto Rico and arranging their delivery.

Putting down her smartphone, Gonzales tells me to hold on – nothing is finalized – not ready to be announced; yet she appears more than cautiously optimistic. She runs upstairs to tell her sister the good news.

Last week, Gonzalez, of Bristow, and her sister Lorraine Villahermos were frantically trying to get her parents onto a plane and back home to Virginia. They were visiting relatives in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria arrived.While struggling to help their family, Gonzalez and Villahermosa also arranged a donation drive, working with around Northern Virginia.

“We are just a family, a community who wants to make a difference,” Gonzalez said. She asks that people with connections reach out, saying they could do so much more to make this all happen.

Calling themselves, R1SE, from the popular Puerto Rican phrase “Levanta Se,” meaning “Rise Up,” they created an online flyer and began collecting needed items.

Soon, people responded to their call; items poured in, taking up several rooms in the houses of R1SE coordinators, which also includes Hilda Caban Smith in Leesburg; Sherryln Deno in Chantilly; and Sasha Kasko in Falls Church.

However, most challenging part by far had been the logistics. The women of R1SE were soon met with both figurative and literal roadblocks. Large organizations began placing limits on what they would take on their planes. By the time they received donations, the list had changed. And, hearing that not everything arriving in San Juan was getting into the hands of the people, Gonzalez was becoming even more particular about how they deliver the goods to the Island.

“Ultimately, we want to be able to update the people who are donating,” she said. “We want people to know we are not just accepting your stuff just to take it.”

At the same time, there was much for which she was thankful. Gonzalez’s parents arrived home safely, securing two seats on a service flight. Her mom has already volunteered her time with FEMA in the U.S., and her father is looking to go back to Puerto Rico to volunteer.

Then there has been the support she received from the community. People have been extremely generous, she explained. As we talked, Ashleigh McFee of Bristow came to the door. She was dropping off some items her preschool-aged daughter in tow.

McFee said she was looking for a convenient outlet where she could donate to Puerto Rico, and then she saw the initial Bristow Beat article. “I know how horrible the conditions are down there and I wanted to help.”

Many people sent donations to the home via Amazon or FedEx.

The last piece good news comes Thursday night. Gonzalez emails me: the plane had been confirmed. More exclamation marks. They would be working with a church organization “Hands and Feet,” an outreach/relief organization with Church on the Move in Woodbridge. Hands and Feet of Puerto Rico  plans to take all items directly to the communities where the damage was most severe, so they will not need to contact any other organization.

Hands and Feet for PR has agreed to take ALL of our supplies and we are THRILLED!!! Their team of 10 will fly directly into PR (with with the cargo, or meet the cargo) and distribute the aid throughout the entire island, including Vieques. This is a major development for our group… and it only takes 1 person to make a HUGE impact on the world.

Gonzalez is still accepting more items, but only until Sunday at 2 p.m. At that time, she invites readers to help separate and pack items for shipment. At this point, they said they have enough diapers and water, especially since the weight of the water makes it difficult to deliver. The best donation items at this time are baby food, flashlights and batteries, said Gonzalez, relaying information she had heard from the organizations. However, she said, if people have already purchased other donation items, they will accept them.

Volunteers can come to Villahermosa’ townhouse located at Kennoway Court, in Braemar, Bristow. The home which will be marked at that time. People can call or text Gonzalez 571-239-8559 or Villahermosa 703-342-7481 to see if there is still a need for volunteers.

The women may shut down their command center for a while but they do not plan to stop working for the Puerto Rican people in crisis anytime soon.

“This doesn’t stop tomorrow, the next month, or even the month after. This is going to be an on-going effort,” she said, encouraged people not to become desensitized, especially Puerto Ricans living on the mainland.

“Our parents are home, a part of my heart is with us. It is easy for people to say, I did what I needed to do, our job is done, [but] they can’t be forgotten!”

© 2017, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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