The work to provide relief for the residents of Puerto Rico continues as the holidays have passed and the island is still faced with uncertainty in 2018.
Evergreen Park resident Myriam Morales, with the help of volunteers, organized “South Siders for Puerto Rico” less than two weeks after the island was ripped apart by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20. Most of Puerto Rico has been without clean water and electricity since the storm hit.
Morales was relieved when her parents, aunt, grandmother and other relatives were unharmed after the devastating storm. Her relatives had to deal with intermittent electricity and many unpassable roads that were wiped away because of the storm.
Through South Siders for Puerto Rico, Morales was able to raise a surprisingly large amount of supplies, food and toiletries over one weekend as the Mongan Dance Academy in Evergreen Park was used as a collection site. Her daughter, Abigail, 9, attends the dance academy. Linda Kay, owner of the academy, accepted Morales’ suggestion to use the facility as a location where the supplies could be dropped off.
“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 in sending the donations to Puerto Rico.
But while the supplies were eventually distributed, Morales admitted that it took longer than expected. She said that in the future that if she is going to distribute supplies to Puerto Rico, she would need the assistance of her parents and their neighbors.
“A lot of people still don’t have water or electricity,” Morales said. “So, the best way to get supplies there is to target certain regions where the supplies can get to my parents and their friends. Then they can help to distribute to areas that are needed.”
And apparently, much more has to be done. According to published reports, only 55 percent of the island has power as of Friday. The Category 4 storm had recorded winds up to 154 miles per hour. Some Puerto Rican authorities said that all power would be restored by Dec. 15. The Army Air Corps of Engineers has said that power would be totally restored by May.
That is not the news that Morales wanted to hear. Her last goal was to provide some cheer by organizing the “Holiday in a Box for Toa Alta” in which boxes have been provided for residents of the island that contained presents for Christmas.
“Toa Alta, which is located in the northern coast of the island, is the town where my grandmother and aunt have lived and the childhood home to my father for many years,” Morales said. “It is now the the site of damaged trees and damaged houses.”
Morales, who is also an events planner, filled the boxes with a festive table setting for eight and a mini-tabletop Christmas tree. She said the donations went to purchasing canned goods to add to the Holiday Box. Once completed, the boxes were sent to her parents in San German, Puerto Rico.
“They personally drove to hand out the boxes, distribute them, shared stories, and took photos with the families they have reached,” Morales said.
The Holiday Box meal also consisted of two 16-ounce cooked hams, one can of pineapple slices, and a box of rice.
Morales will continue to spearhead other donations through the South Siders for Puerto Rico, the community-based group from Evergreen Park.
“We are here as a community, united and impassioned, to create events on the South Side of Chicago so that together, we can continue to support Puerto Rico,” Morales said. “Small things become great things when they are done with love.”
Morales said that with the assistance of her parents and their friends on the island, she will come up with more ideas to provide more supplies and smiles to the residents of Puerto Rico.
“These are people who have lost so much and continue to uplift one another despite lack of resources, water, and power even months after the hurricane,” added Morales.
Residents and organizations would like to donate and keep up on updates can visit the Southsiders for Puerto Rico page on Facebook.