Puerto Ricans in Action's first trip to the island took place between October 22, 2016 to October 26, 2016. The trip's main goal was to connect with grassroots organizations and city officials distributing supplies throughout the island.
Day 1: On October 27th we arrived at the airport with 50 bins of supplies, but were only allowed to take 6 bins. As we approached the island, around 10:00pm, I saw a blanket of darkness covering the island.
I stepped out out of the airport and was hit with a smell of diesel instead of fresh island air. Diesel, from the many generators running throughout the city, is now the current scent of Puerto Rico.
We stopped at a packed BBQ spot along the way to the house in San Juan. The restaurant was running on generators, food was low, and there was a limited menu. There was a line of hungry people with cash in hand hoping to eat before the food ran out.
Day 2: Driving was a mission. Intersections were every man for themselves, trees and power lines were still down, and trash piles were yet to be picked up by the city.
We made it to Arecibo and handed out supplies along the way to the home of our friend’s grandmother. She informed us that she was without water and electricity, and spends her days sitting on her porch watching people pass by. She was excited to have us as company.
We then met with Wendy Colon in Corozal. She gave us a tour of the agricultural center, where they stored supplies from FEMA, the Red Cross, and private donors. We helped deliver supplies, door to door, where people eagerly await for them to arrive.
Day 3: We awoke early to meet with a pastor who makes food runs to first responders. On our way, we passed a Sam’s Club, around 5:00am, where the line was about a mile long. We went with the pastor to police stations where he provided food for officers, EMT’s, and nurses.
We drove to Guayanilla, where we were to meet with the mayor. When we arrived, the mayor had already gone into town to deliver food and water. We left them with 2 bins of supplies and headed to Penuelas.
In Penuelas, my stepmother and I made care bags from the supplies for families who lost everything. Many homes and streets were destroyed here. The people described the many challenges they continue to face since Maria hit, especially without any government help. I went to see what was left of my uncle’s house and found that the only thing remaining was the bathroom.
Day 4: I was contacted by Wapa TV on my last day. I spoke with them about the efforts of Puerto Ricans in Action, and what other groups and people in Los Angeles are doing to help.
I took the last bin of supplies to Loquillo where I met with one of our group member’s father. He showed me the damage of his house and said that he had no way to keep his insulin cold since his generator was broken. Many others in town were in the same predicament. I then drove around and passed out the last of the supplies.
During my brief time on the island, I saw many people working together, to help each other. I realized that although Maria has destroyed a lot of the island and many people’s livelihood, it hasn’t destroyed their spirit and has only made Puerto Ricans stronger.