Long Beach paying it forward for Puerto Rico

Latino Civic Association and others launch relief effort for Hurricane Maria victims

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The Cruzada Evangelico Misionera Church, on Long Beach Boulevard, was crowded on Tuesday with boxes of supplies that volunteers loaded onto a truck, destined to become part of a relief shipment bound for Puerto Rico.

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria tore across the island of 3.4 million people — and on the same day that President Trump visited Puerto Rico for the first time since the storm — a supply drive launched by the Long Beach Latino Civic Association, in conjunction with other relief efforts, had already collected enough items — from bottled water and batteries to diapers and feminine hygiene products — to fill three shipping containers.

“They estimate that electricity will be out for six months, and there’s no water, very little food in some areas, and it’s like a total disaster on so many levels,” said Helen Dorado Alessi, executive director of the civic association. “People are just excited and anxious to be able to do something — they have relatives on the island, some of whom they haven’t heard from yet.”

As Long Beach residents rallied to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey, which ravaged Texas, many are now showing their support for those in Puerto Rico, and the civic association’s relief effort is one of many that are under way in the city and across the South Shore. The supplies were being delivered to a collection center in Freeport and being shipped from Port Elizabeth, N.J., to Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.

“We’re a city that was hit by Sandy, and we’re still coming back five years later,” Alessi said. “But we had places to go and evacuate to. This is in the middle of the ocean.”

The death toll from the storm rose to 34 on Tuesday, according to Reuters. Maria was the worst hurricane to hit the U.S. territory in more than 90 years.

City Council President Len Torres, who is assisting the relief effort, said that his family, in the Puerto Rican communities of Corozal and Ponce, was affected by the storm. His elderly father’s former neighbors in the town of Dorado, 15 miles west of San Juan, died in the floodwaters, he said.

“The flooding was so great … the whole family drowned,” Torres said. “Much of my family is stuck in the mountains in places like Corozal — they’re completely disconnected.”

Torres, whose father lives in a nursing home that had an emergency generator, remains concerned about his well-being and said he may have to bring him to Long Beach. His relatives here, Torres said, are trying to get flights to the island to check on his father and other family members.

“The really important thing right now is that we get to people in these remote parts of Puerto Rico that are really disconnected,” he said. “We need to really show how important it is for people to come out for Puerto Rico, just as they did for Long Beach.”

Alessi said that the Latino Civic Association is working with No Limit Auto Body in Freeport and Chardonas Locksmith in Island Park, which set up the main collection site in Freeport, as well as the City of Long Beach, Cruzada Church, the Long Beach school district, St. Mary of the Isle Roman Catholic Church, the Long Beach JCC and Skudin Surf, among other organizations.

The supplies that are desperately needed include water, flashlights, batteries, lanterns, diapers for both infants and the elderly, canned and dry goods, pillows, blankets, pain relievers and feminine hygiene products, Alessi and others said. The collection site in Long Beach will move this week from Cruzada Church to the city’s Ice Arena.

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, meanwhile, has launched a separate relief effort, and said that his office, at 55 Front St. in Rockville Centre, would serve as a collection point for supplies. Kaminsky is working with Long Island Cares to ship the items to Puerto Rico.

The Latino Civic, Alessi said, is also accepting gift cards and cash donations that will be distributed to churches in Puerto Rico, and has set up an online fundraiser at www.gofundme.com/prreliefny.

Each of the three shipping containers that were filled in Freeport cost $3,500 to $5,000 to ship. To date, the Latino Civic has raised roughly $8,000 to help cover those costs and to purchase gift cards.

One container, filled with mattresses, construction materials and other items, departed from Freeport last week, while the other two were set to leave New Jersey on Wednesday, Alessi said, adding that it would take a week for supplies to reach San Juan.

“We’re grateful that the Jones Act has been temporarily lifted, and hopefully it will allow more ships to come to port,” she said, referring to a century-old shipping law that prohibits foreign ships from transporting goods between U.S. ports, and that officials in Puerto Rico said was hindering the relief effort. “At the same time, someone has to be concerned with what happens on the ground in Puerto Rico. It just has to get to where it needs to be — that’s the big logistical problem right now.”

She went on to say said that the civic association has been communicating with the San Juan-based Puerto Rico Community Foundation, a nonprofit that has set up a recovery fund at www.fcpr.org. The Rev. Raul Colon of Cruzada Church, meanwhile, was planning to leave for Puerto Rico next week to assist local relief efforts and to check on his family, Alessi said.

“At some point,” she said, “we can envision people from Long Beach Latino Civic going down to Puerto Rico to help.”