NOTE: This post is being updated as new opportunities arise.
Since Hurricane Maria hit a few days ago, I’ve been thinking about Puerto Rico nonstop. My family was incredibly lucky and they are safe, but they are still without power, water, access to roads, unable to work, the list goes on.
Unlike natural disasters on the mainland, we can’t access PR by truck, car, or other easy and fast modes of transportation. You can only fly or go by boat. All of the island’s ports were damaged and only one is operational currently (following several days of efforts). The airport is currently closed to non-emergency professionals bringing aid. People have nowhere to go, including those who lost their homes. Most are unable to communicate with anyone, on or off the island, unless you see them in person. Many of those lucky enough to have generators, including hospitals, are not able to find diesel to power their machines.
Things you can do to help:
Call your representatives…NOW
As you may know, there are about 3.5 million US citizens on the island of Puerto Rico, but they do not have representation at a state level (they do have someone who can speak on their behalf, but no one with voting power), nor may they vote for president (though they can and do serve in the armed forces). I’m not trying to get into politics here, I’m just explaining why calling your representatives is so important. Unlike when states are affected, PR has no one to advocate for its interests or bargain for federal assistance. They rely entirely upon the kindness of the states and the federal government. And that’s where you come in. Call, email, tweet, text, send carrier pigeons, (or use ResistBot!, or text RESIST to 50409 and it will automatically find out who represents you in Congress, and deliver your message to them in under 2 minutes), and annoy every single representative you can think of and ask them to:
- Ask your representatives to commit (state or federal) manpower, resources, and supplies. The island’s entire power grid is down, people aren’t able to communicate with each, and many people are desperate. PR needs bodies on the ground helping to maintain order, to ensure rescue and recovery efforts can proceed unhindered, and to help rebuild. Representatives should also be encouraged to help evacuate particularly vulnerable populations, including cancer patients, patients on dialysis, and pediatric patients (even Pitbull is doing it!). There have been reports of several hospitalized patients dying because generators are running out of diesel or gas, and there are bound to be many more if we don’t get them out.
- Support and pass immediately Sen. John McCain’s bill to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the Jones Act, or alternatively, to waive the Jones Act for at least one year (preferably 5 or more).
If you haven’t heard of the Jones Act before, it basically requires any goods shipped by water between two points in the United States be transported on a U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged, and at least 75 percent U.S.-crewed vessel. This makes it much more expensive and less efficient to ship goods, supplies, materials (including to help rebuild the island’s devastated infrastructure) to Puerto Rico. And in times of emergency, like now, it limits the aid the island can receive. Unlike disaster relief on the mainland, trucks with aid can’t just drive there. In addition to the legislation introduced this summer, Sen. McCain just introduced legislation to permanently exempt PR from the Jones Act. on September 28th. Although the Jones Act has been waived for 10 days following public outcry, that is far from enough to help PR recover from Maria. If you’re interested in learning more (especially regarding why it might be a good idea to implement a long-term waiver and how the Jones Act may be hindering PR’s economic recovery), you can check out this 2015 article from PBS, this more recent Bloomberg article, and this NY Times piece advocating for the scrapping of the Jones Act following Hurricane Irma.
- Tell them to pass a generous aid package to assist PR. Puerto Rico was already deeply, deeply in debt and simply does not have the funds to help itself recover. And I just want to reiterate, that besides humanitarian reasons, there are 3.5 million US citizens on the island with no one in Congress to help them. Please be their voices.
You can search for your representatives’ contact information here.
And you fill out a template letter urging your representatives to include emergency supplemental appropriations for PR before the government spending bill expires on Sept. 30. This is even easier than ResistBot.
DONATE, donate, please, donate.
Personally, I’ve been donating to the First Lady of Puerto Rico’s organization and ConPRmetidos, a local non-profit that has pledged to give 100% of all donations directly to those in need. (For what it’s worth, the NY Times also recommends these organizations, among others and I know the people running ConPRmetidos.)
Donating Physical Items
If you are able to or prefer to donate physical items, here are drop off locations in NYC, Miami (and other locations in Florida), and here is a Google Doc (I don’t know who runs it or whether the information is valid) identifying additional drop off locations all across the country. Here is a Google Map with more location information. I understand that feminine hygiene products, infant care products (diapers, wipes, formula, powdered milk), non-perishable food items, water, batteries (especially D’s), battery operated fans (or solar powered!), flashlights and other necessary basic items are high priority right now.
Donating to Physicians on the Ground
A group of 60,000 female physicians known as the “Physician Moms Group” are also fundraising and organizing efforts to assist physicians on the ground in hospitals in PR. They intend to divide all donations among the hospitals. NPR wrote about them here after their efforts to help Harvey victims.
I would also like to call your attention to Hurricane Maria Help PR and Virgin Is., managed by a Puerto Rican doctor in Florida who created the group Doctoras Boricuas (and later Medicos Boricuas) following Hurricane Maria and is using the funds for medical supplies to be used throughout the island (and who will be traveling to the island personally to bring the supplies directly to where they are needed most and to treat patients). You can learn more about their efforts here and on their donation site.
Donating Directly to Families
On a personal note, three families with whom my family is very close lost everything, including their homes and all of their belongings. I’m managing a YouCaring site for them, as they do not have access to the internet. More information is available here. And we’ve also set up an Amazon Registry for items they will need to start putting their lives back together. All purchases are being sent to my parents’ home (or my own, where they do not ship to PR), so the beneficiaries will be able to pick up their items easily. I’ve linked the registry to Amazon Smile, so Amazon donates a small amount to charity for any eligible purchases made through the Registry. I’ve set mine up to benefit Friends of Puerto Rico, but there are many good ones (including The Sato Project, about which I posted below).
In general, if you shop on Amazon, using smile.Amazon.com is a simple and free way for you to support Puerto Rico. This is quick, it is easy, and it will have an impact.
Donating Solar Powered Light
It looks like at least one company is working on getting donations to bring in Solar Puff Lights while the power is out (these are essentially solar powered cubes/lanterns). According to the site, George Sampas has donated the cost of the flight and fuel to bring thousands of lamps to Puerto Rico the first week in October.
Donating to Animals
If you or someone you know is an animal-lover, please also consider donating to The Sato Project, an organization dedicated to saving feral dogs in Puerto Rico. They lost everything after Maria and are now scrambling to get their dogs off the island so they can bring in and care for more animals. If you’re on the mainland, consider adopting a sato!
Donating to the Environment
Ridge to Reefs is a nonprofit dedicated to helping local communities with environmental restoration. Their GoFundMe is seeking funds to get water purification systems to Puerto Rico and arranging for small scale solar for basic energy and communications including satellite communications for areas in need (as communications in many areas are non-existent or spotty at best).
Sign online petitions
If you’re an attorney or know one…
Consider committing to help (even remotely) through the Legal Corps for Puerto Rico (which I believe is manned by the Puerto Rican Bar Association of NY) or share this information so others can help. You don’t have to be bilingual or speak Spanish to assist. More information about the Legal Corps is available here.
If you’re a medical professional or know one…
Consider donating medical supplies, or better yet, volunteering on the ground. Many hospitals were destroyed or very badly hit by Maria, especially those far from the main metropolitan area. The island has been hemorrhaging medical professionals, in part because of the depressed economy. The flooding (creating a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, bacteria, etc.) and the current inability to access certain parts of the island are creating a perfect storm for a health crisis. Any help you can provide is needed and encouraged.
A contact at FEMA is recommending that interested medical professionals register to volunteer on the VOAD website: so that all of the VOAD members will know of their availability. Additionally, he suggests that the doctors contact Americares as they are involved in medical/health care oriented activities in Hurricane Maria impacted locations. He further recommends that doctors also check with Health and Human Services regarding supporting ESF-8 Public Health and Medical Services in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.
There are telemedicine and on the ground volunteer opportunities. If you are a medical professional, you can fill out this form to volunteer remotely, which is being spearheaded by the Rowe Network. If you can volunteer on the ground, fill out this form to work with Doctoras Boricuas/Medicos Boricuas (who are running the Hurricane Maria Help PR and Virgin Is. fund) to go to Puerto Rico and treat patients who desperately need medical attention.
Samaritan’s Purse supposedly has people on the ground in PR (and elsewhere) and may be accepting volunteers soon.
If you are an engineer, scientist or technician…
Please consider signing up through Desde la Diaspora‘s google form for potential volunteer opportunities with the intention of working with existing organizations to develop and execute short and long term sustainability projects.
If you are (or know) someone who…
Works in the solar energy business, consider helping the island capitalize on one of its greatest (and most plentiful) natural resources. Help rebuild the solar farms that were destroyed, and get the island back on its feet to be even greener and more energy independent than ever.
Works with animals or plants, consider helping the island’s devastated flora and now-homeless fauna. Many animals have lost their natural habitats and food sources.
Works with or knows about recycling or waste management. Right now, a majority of the island’s population is relying on bottled water and battery powered flashlights and lanterns. All of that is going to end up in a landfill (batteries included), unless we can implement a way to recycle and gather them. PR does not have a good recycling infrastructure, so let’s help build one.
Works in the shipping industry and has access to boats or planes that can bring supplies. Please consider donating space on your ship to resources, supplies, and disaster relief professionals.
Works in construction, consider donating supplies and manpower to help people begin rebuilding their homes.
If you or someone you know works for a charity…
JetBlue has a program in place for charitable baggage. You need a reservation and the charity has to be vetted. The request goes to DearJetBlue@jetblue.com.
There are new telemedicine and on the ground volunteer opportunities in the works. If you are a medical professional, you can fill out this form to volunteer remotely, which is being spearheaded by the Rowe Network. If you can volunteer on the ground, fill out this form to work with Doctoras Boricuas/Medicos Boricuas (who are running the Hurricane Maria Help PR and Virgin Is. fund) to go to Puerto Rico and treat patients who desperately need medical attention.
You can sign up to volunteer for a variety of efforts at Connect Relief.
National Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster is coordinating volunteers.
The American Red Cross is also allowing non-local residents interested in volunteering to supply their information here. More information about volunteer expectations and requirements at redcross.org.
The government of Puerto Rico has also provided this official contact information for individuals and organizations wishing to volunteer: 202-800-3134 email@example.com
As a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora, I desperately want to help the island, and know millions of others out there do as well. What else can we do? Who needs to be connected and with whom? Let’s do it.
*I’ll be updating this post with any opportunities for volunteering, donations, or help that may arise. #PRselevanta