Written by Joe Boyle
Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton greets Myriam Morales (left) and Linda Kay, the owner of the Mongan Dance Academy in the village. Morales, Kay and volunteers collected supplies that included food, water and clothing for the victims of Hurricane Maria that ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
Myriam Morales was shaken when she learned that Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The Evergreen Park resident was relieved when a week later she was able to contact her parents, who live on the island.
But she would not rest until she was able to contact other relatives, like her aunt, Orquidea Guzman, and her grandmother, Benedicta Burgos, who turned 100 years old this year. Morales wanted to help other people who have families in Puerto Rico, where many cities and towns were without power and roads were damaged preventing vehicles from getting in.
Linda Kay, owner of Mongan Dance Academy in Evergreen Park, accepted Morales’ suggestion that her studio could be used to collect donations to help the victims of the hurricane. Morales, whose daughter, Abigail, 9, attends the dance academy, was thankful. “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” took place less than two weeks after the hurricane hit and residents came from all over, not just Evergreen Park, to donate and help.
“Yeah, we ended up with a 17-foot truck for supplies like toiletries, paper towels and cases of water,” Morales said. “We had to rent another van for all the clothing that was donated.”
The reason Morales decided to make the collections is that through the assistance of friends from Chicago’s North Side they were able to have the goods sent on a ship with transportation provided when it reached the island. Photographer Sylk Negron, event planner Ivy Linares and Alex Talbot were able to assist to send the donations to Puerto Rico.
But Morales admits the journey took longer than expected because most roads were impassable, along with the flooding and lack of power. But Morales, who is also an event planner, was not going to give up on future endeavors.
“We just got confirmation that the shipments just went through customs today (Friday, Nov. 10),” Morales said. “I sent my mother a box and it was supposed to take three days but took 10 days. We are just crossing our fingers. You know we are hoping for the best.”
With news that a power outage in San Juan resulted in nearly 80 percent loss of electricity last Thursday, Morales knows this is a long-term crusade. After sending supplies to her parents, who shared some of the items with neighbors, it occurred to Morales that this is best way to approach this tragedy.
“I know people have said not to just send items to the island because it will never get there,” Morales said. “But if you can get the supplies to someone who can distribute it to others in a certain area, then that is progress. “
While people who live in the mountains have little access to roads or power, some areas like San German, where her parents live, does have some power, Morales said. Her next project is to make the holidays a little brighter for some of her relatives and other residents of Puerto Rico.
She is working on a “Holiday in a Box” idea. Morales said that she is using her experience as a certified wedding and events planner to send goods to the island. She is basing the idea on her “Party in a Box” business that allows her to create affordable designs for people who don’t have time to do the leg work.
“The new business venture inspired me to be able to create a Holiday in a Box for some of the families affected in my grandmother's home town of Toa Alta,” Morales said. “The box would include a table setting and decor for eight. I would personally provide the table setting and decor included in the box. I then wanted to create a free online fundraising platform via You Caring (www.youcaring.com) to provide an avenue for people in the community who want to help and donate to this cause.”
Donations received would go to purchasing canned good to add to the Holiday Box. Morales said the box will be designed to bring some families much needed holiday cheer and resources to some of the families of Puerto Rico
“These are people who have lost it all and continue to uplift one another despite lack of resources, water and power,” Morales said. “I would then send these boxes to my parents in San German, Puerto Rico and they will personally drive the boxes and distribute them and take photos with the families we have reached.”
Morales reiterated that three-day priority mail will take about 10 days. The goal, Morales said, is to raise just over $2,322 (includes shipping cost and $25 of canned goods and tax) and reach 50 families. Morales said that not everybody can donate at the same time. She is considering setting up a GoFundMe page to send the boxes to Puerto Rico directly.
“This way we can keep contact with relatives in their towns,” Morales said. “It’s almost like adopting a town.”
Morales said it is difficult to remain optimistic after seeing photos of the devastation. Her parents will continue to live in Puerto Rico for now. However, her aunt and her grandmother plan to stay with a nephew of the aunt in Florida for several months while the slow process of repairs take place.
“My parents have water and power back most of the time,” Morales said. “The say it’s a little spooky. The power goes on and off. But they want to stay and help their neighbors. As far as my aunt and grandmother, God bless them. My grandma is used to that kind of life because of her past. She was used to not having running water. But it’s still hard. And that’s nothing to what people are going through in the mountains.”
She admits that it is frustrating that is has taken so long for power to be restored. And that’s why she wants to provide for people in small ways because that will lead to progress.
“With these holiday boxes, I have my parents to help me out,” Morales said. “I want people to feel empowered. I want people to keep giving. It touches me to see that no small idea is dumb. Everybody can help.”