SEATTLE — During the past decade, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has been facing an island-wide recession. Just under half of Puerto Ricans were living below the poverty line, more than a third reported that they were in generally poor health and unemployment was twice as high as that of the mainland U.S.
So when Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017, Puerto Rico officially plunged into a humanitarian crisis. Hurricane Maria was the worst storm to ever hit Puerto Rico after escalating to a Category 5 storm in just 15 hours. Though relief efforts in Puerto Rico did not begin immediately, when they did they came in droves.
On September 25, just five days after the hurricane made landfall in Puerto Rico, the Fuel Relief Fund delivered over $162,000 worth of fuel to the island for the operation of emergency equipment, in-home generators and transportation purposes.
Providing one of the very first fundraising efforts, the GlobalGiving Campaign started taking donations for relief efforts on September 28, just a week after the hurricane made landfall. Funds went directly to organizations in Puerto Rico so that those in need of immediate help could receive it. The GlobalGiving Campaign continues to provide support to relief efforts in Puerto Rico, shifting their focus from immediate help to long-term structural assistance as well as assistance to other Caribbean countries affected by the storm.
IsraAID’s Emergency Response Team began distributing emergency supplies as soon as possible, including basic hygiene supplies, water filtration systems and a mobile medical unit. IsraAID is also dedicated to rebuilding the psycho-social support system on the island for residents in crisis.
In October, three weeks after the storm hit Puerto Rico’s shores, 13,700 Department of Defense (DOD) employees shipped out to give aid to the island. The DOD personnel arrived in tandem with shipments of food, water and fuel to help residents get back on their feet. Because hospitals suffered severe damage in the storm’s 175-mile-per-hour wind speeds, military hospital ship USNS Comfort arrived in the city of Aguadilla and members of the 14th Combat Support Hospital were deployed to the municipality of Humacao to assist injured and ailing Puerto Rican residents.
Unidos por Puerto Rico, an organization dedicated to accelerating recovery in Puerto Rico created by the island’s first lady Beatriz Rosselló, provided multiple grants to organizations and programs to aid recovery. Banco de Alimentos de Puerto Rico (The Food Bank of Puerto Rico) received a $100,000 grant to provide food to residents in need. La Perla de Gran Precio (The Pearl of Great Price Church) also received $100,000 to distribute among eight of its organizations, including programs to provide shelter and therapy to those living with mental illness, disabilities, HIV and homelessness. Centro de Ayuda Social (The Social Support Center) was granted $48,000 to build community kitchens and provide fresh meals to damaged communities, and the National Puerto Rican Leadership Council Education Fund’s “Operation Oasis” received over $200,000 to provide safe drinking water to all 78 Puerto Rican municipalities.
With the majority of the island still lacking power by the end of October, the ASPCA gathered 22,000 employees to provide veterinary care for homeless animals and relief for animal shelters in St. Croix and the Virgin Islands. Shelters across the U.S. including the Dumb Friends League in Denver, Colorado, the third-largest open admission animal shelter in the country, brought homeless pets from Puerto Rico into their shelters to provide treatment and adoption opportunities.
Possibly the most astounding effort was the One America Appeal fundraiser led by the five living former U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Barack Obama. They raised $41 million during a benefit concert featuring Lady Gaga in October and an additional $1 million by the end of December. The proceeds of the One America Appeal fundraiser were distributed among the islands and states affected by the 2017 hurricane season and the Caribbean’s funds went to the Unidos por Puerto Rico organization.
Four months after the hurricane made landfall, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands are still struggling to reestablish widespread power. Though the island is far from a full recovery, these relief efforts in Puerto Rico have helped the island make large strides toward a healed community.
– Anna Sheps