Evergreen Park woman leads relief effort for Puerto Rico

  • Written by Joe Boyle

girls help photo 10-5

Photo by Joe Boyle

Aailyah Gamboa (left), 15, and Marissa Fernandez, 12, check the amount of supplies that were brought in Saturday at the Mongan Dance Academy for the “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” hurricane relief effort.

Evergreen Park resident Myriam Morales was worried about her parents and other relatives after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

She mentioned her concerns a couple of days later to Linda Kay, owner of Mongan Dance Academy, 3521 W. 95th St., Evergreen Park, where her daughter receives dance instruction. Morales said that she had to do something after not hearing from her relatives since the hurricane hit.

Kay’s response was immediate.

“I’ve done some community organizing in the past,” said Kay, a resident of Chicago’s Wrightwood community. “Myriam mentioned that she had not heard from her mother and that’s when I said we could do this. We have gotten a great response as you can see.”

Morales is grateful for Kay’s generosity. The wheels then began to quickly turn and “Southsiders for Puerto Rico” was created.

“We immediately started a website and began using social media to get the word out,” said Morales. “I was hoping that we get some sort of response and could collect some items. I didn’t know what to expect. But as soon as we opened up on Saturday, people continued to drop off supplies. It was amazing. I was blown away.”

Cars continued to stream into the Mongan Dance Academy parking lot all day Saturday. Evergreen Park residents came by to drop off toiletries, canned goods and water. Morales said people came from as far as Chicago’s North Side to provide supplies. Kay helped fold clothes that were put in boxes. Shannon Edwards, Linda’s daughter, also helped bring in supplies.

Morales also received some good news by Saturday. She had been in contact with her parents, aunt and her grandmother, Benedicta Burgos, who turned 100 years old this year. Orquidea Guzman, Morales’ aunt, care for her grandmother. They live in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico. All of her relatives are safe and coping better than most with the aftermath of the hurricane.

Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton also dropped in Saturday to see how the donations were going.

“The ladies did a great job of organizing this,” Sexton said. “We all want to help out when we can. Every little bit helps.”

Morales said the response was equally impressive on Sunday.

“I’m still tabulating how much we came up with,” said Morales. “At last count, someone donated 80 cases of water. We had 1,100 cases of water that we were packing. We had so many people who came in to volunteer. So many people responded. I got to know so many more people through this. This is what community is all about. I know they were doing collections on the North Side and thought what about the South Side? I have gotten to know so many more people and made a lot of new friends.”

Morales was born and raised on Chicago’s Northwest Side and moved to Evergreen Park about two years ago. She said so many people came to donate and see them this past weekend, including Alice Spingola, the principal at Southeast Elementary School in Evergreen Park, where her daughter, Abigail, 9, attends. Abigail’s third-grade teacher, Lori Lurquin, and the school’s building secretary, Mary Williams, also dropped in to show support. They were collecting donations at the school all week.

She said her parents, Radames and Myriam Guzman, were born and raised in Puerto Rico before coming to Chicago. Her parents reside in San German, Puerto Rico during certain times of the year. Morales said she has relatives who live all over the island.

“The last time I talked to my parents before the hurricane they told me they would be OK,” recalled Morales. “They said they went to get a lot of supplies. Then I didn’t hear from them for six days. I did not hear from grandmother or my aunt. I was worried.

“Then I was able to finally get a hold of them,” continued Morales. “They told me they had never been through anything like this. My grandmother said that she remembers this happening once before, but that was 85 years ago.”

Morales is being assisted by two women she knows – Sylk Negron, a photographer, and Ivy Linares, an event planner -- who are community organizers on the city’s North Side. They are working with Alex Talbot, of Interconex Inc., a full-service domestic and international door-to-door household goods transportation company. They planned to send the collected items by ship to a warehouse in San Juan. Morales said the hurricane created challenges because Puerto Rico is an island with much of the homes destroyed and the roads wiped out

Supplies will be provided for affected areas such as Caguas, Utuado, Bayamon and Moca. Morales said the people she is collaborating with have representatives there who have agreed to handle the distribution.

Morales, who is a wedding planner and also used to organize events, said through hard work relief will be provided.

“These goods will be getting there,” said Morales. “That’s why I feel better. People want to know where the supplies are going. I can tell them that they will be going straight to Puerto Rico.”