Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia organize earthquake relief efforts
Philly Boricuas, a local grassroots organization, is holding a relief drive in collaboration with the Providence Center, Make the Road PA, and groups based on the island.
After a 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit Puerto Rico in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 7, Philly Boricuas, a local grassroots organization in Philadelphia, has spearheaded a relief drive for those in the hardest-hit areas in the southern part of the island.
The Jan. 7 temblor was the latest in a sequence of earthquakes that have occurred on or near the island in the past several weeks.
The quake, whose epicenter was near the municipalities of Guánica and Ponce, killed at least one person, injuring nine others, and has forced more than 2,000 people to seek refuge in designated shelters, according to Puerto Rico’s Public Housing Administration. As of Jan. 8, about 250,000 people on the island were without running water.
Puchi De Jesus, Philly Boricuas organizer, said that in response to the disaster, the group is working with other partners in Philadelphia and on the ground in Puerto Rico to collect and distribute vital supplies.
They are creating emergency backpacks that can be passed out to those affected by the earthquakes to help with immediate relief efforts, as well as to provide supplies in the event of any future natural disasters.
Philly Boricuas is asking for donations of items limited to the list posted on the group’s social media and website, which includes:
- water filtration devices
- toilet paper
- face/hand towels
- baby wipes
- tampons/sanitary pads
- granola or protein bars
- alkaline batteries
- compact travel blankets
- sharpie markers
- small notepads
- warm weather sleeping bags
- first aid kits
- ziploc bags
- extension cords
- blue tarps
- duct tape
- canopy tents
- cabin tents
Supplies and donations can be dropped off at the following locations and times:
- Providence Center, at 2557 N. 5th Street, Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.
- Make the Road PA (Philadelphia office) at 7221 Rising Sun Ave., Monday-Friday from 12 p.m. - 8 p.m.
- Office of State Rep Malcolm Kenyatta, at 1501 N. Broad Street, Monday-Friday from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Organizers say the drive is just the first step in their response efforts.
“This is going to be a long process,” said Charito Morales, community organizer at the Providence Center and a registered nurse who coordinated relief efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and 2018.
Morales noted that an important aspect of the emergency backpacks will be the inclusion of a list of critical resources in the event of an emergency — a “special information kit,” she said.
The packets will include information for Puerto Ricans on how they can protect themselves in the event of an emergency, what to do if their property is damaged or destroyed, phone numbers they can call to access support, and more.
Morales said that their goal is to provide people with quicker, better access to the kind of information and resources that would have served many of the Puerto Ricans who were displaced by Hurricane María in Sept. 2017.
“After we learned from Hurricane María, we’re going to be a little bit more prepared,” Morales said.
In addition to distributing emergency backpacks filled with supplies to each family, De Jesus said that they are hoping to collect sleeping bags and canopy tents as well.
“A lot of people are sleeping outdoors, either because they lost their homes or they don’t have anywhere to go, or because their houses are damaged and they’re afraid that any little shake could tumble it,” De Jesus said.
Water filtration devices are another urgent need, since the water service is reliant on the island’s power grid, which shut down after the earthquake and is undergoing repairs for the damage it sustained.
Philly Boricuas has been in contact with several groups on the island that members had previously worked with during relief efforts following Hurricane María to coordinate supplies distribution. One of those partners has confirmed that they are in place in Guánica and are ready to receive donations: Water for Puerto Rico, whose primary focus is distribution of water filtration devices, will help deliver supplies once they are shipped to the island.
De Jesus said that Philly Boricuas may start shipping donations as early as Sunday, and plans to hold the relief drive through the end of next week. Organizers will meet on Saturday to assess whether or not to continue the drive past that week, depending on feedback from those on the ground in Puerto Rico.
De Jesus said that the recent earthquakes lend urgency to some of the actions that Philly Boricuas had already planned around pushing Democratic presidential candidates to better define their Puerto Rico policies.
Puerto Ricans who reside on the island are not able to vote in the U.S. presidential election, but they are able to vote in the primaries, and De Jesus said that beyond any “pandering” that politicians might engage in with messages of support for Puerto Rico on social media, the group wants Democratic presidential candidates to define if and how their policies would impact Puerto Rico.
“We want to see actual plans,” De Jesus said.
Prior to the earthquakes, the group had planned a protest which will be held on Jan. 15 at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices in Center City, in coordination with groups organizing similar protests outside of HUD offices across the country that day, to demand that the department release $18 billion in aid which Congress had approved following Hurricane Maria, but which has so far been withheld by HUD. Now, another demand will be for HUD to release aid for the island's most recent natural disaster.
“It was planned prior to this, it was originally just going to be for the funding for Hurricane Maria release, but now there’s an earthquake so it’s even more relevant,” De Jesus said.