Island Harvest deploys personnel to Puerto Rico

Vice president, E.M. volunteer to set up distribution center

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Migdalia Otero, vice president of operations at the Island Harvest Food Bank, and Rebecca Dresner, an East Meadow volunteer, flew to Bayamón, Puerto Rico, on Monday to help set up two food warehouses, two weeks after Hurricane Maria tore across the island, leaving thousands without food, shelter, drinking water or electricity.

Otero, a native of Puerto Rico, and Dresner planned to use the warehouses to help establish a distribution system for food and other necessities for those affected by the storm. Their deployment is coordinated by Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization, and is part of an effort to reconstruct a hurricane-damaged food bank in Bayamón.

“I’ve seen images on TV, so I’m somewhat prepared for what to expect once we land,” Dresner said on Monday. “But there’s always a lot of unknown going into a disaster zone.”

The pair plan to remain in Puerto Rico until Oct. 13 to train volunteers to ensure a proper flow of the food and supplies that were donated by hundreds of Long Islanders at Island Harvest’s 14 drop-off locations across Nassau and Suffolk counties. The organization first sent two truckloads of food, bottled water and supplies to Puerto Rico on a flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to San Juan on Sept. 27. Feeding America is working with food banks across the nation to transport donations to San Juan through Newark and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Island Harvest has collected and sent more than half a million pounds of food, water and cleaning supplies to affected areas since Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas on Aug. 25 and Hurricane Irma made landfall in Cuba on Sept. 8, and hit Florida two days later.

“Those efforts have already benefited tens of thousands of people impacted by these unparalleled storms,” Dresner said. She added that Island Harvest’s efforts to aid thousands of Long Islanders affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — a mission in which Dresner was involved — prepared the organization to effectively distribute supplies to hurricane-ravaged areas.

Dresner has been involved with Island Harvest for 16 years, coordinating food drives and distributing food. Her mother, Randi Shubin Dresner, is president and CEO of the organization. Rebecca also has experience in international volunteer work. “I’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen in Korea and Florence, Italy, during my travels,” she said. She recently spent 18 months teaching English and crafting educational lessons for children in Cambodia and Thailand.

Otero, who manages Island Harvest’s collection and distribution system, has worked for the organization since 2003. She ensures that over 10 million pounds of food is distributed to more than 500 local food pantries, soup kitchens and other food programs across Long Island each year.

“Migdalia and Rebecca will be lending their time and expertise to assist in a critical mission to create a pipeline that will get food and supplies to people sorely in need,” Shubin Dresner said. “Food banks are a vital part of disaster relief, and work alongside first responders on the front lines in providing food and other essential items to people impacted by a disaster. It’s important that this vital resource is restored quickly to aid the people of Puerto Rico.”

Shubin Dresner added that Island Harvest would continue to collect nonperishable food, bottled water, cleaning supplies and monetary donations for several weeks or months to continue to help those in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Those who wish to donate may drop off acceptable food items at any of the 14 designated drop-off locations. For more information, visit www.islandharvest.org.