In April of 2017, Puerto Rico was a beautiful and relaxing vacation destination. By September, Hurricane Maria had vastly devastated the island with widespread downed and stripped trees and vegetation, destroyed homes, businesses, churches and schools, a severely damaged electrical power grid, a crippled communication system, and extremely limited access to food and water. Residents were isolated and left without basic necessities for days, weeks and months. In some areas, residents had no electricity for over a year.
In April of 2018 knowing the continued trauma the people of Puerto Rico were experiencing and the immense need for assistance of basic necessities, John and Jean called several church denominations for suggested agencies accepting donations. We contacted Corporación Milagros del Amor (CorMA) in Caguas, Puerto Rico and brought two suitcases of specifically identified and requested supplies. Flying into San Juan five months after Maria, we saw a patchwork of blue. Sadly, we realized the blue areas were tarps covering the roofs of damaged homes and buildings, not swimming pools and what that meant. At CorMA, we helped collate, sort and box canned goods at the agency and were given a short tour of the nearby rural area greatly in need of their assistance.
CorMA has been working for over 20 years in the Central Region of Puerto Rico providing services aimed at assisting homeless individuals, those at risk of homelessness, families including single parent families, and elderly persons going through financial crises and hardships. They work cooperatively with helping agencies, churches, and corporations who have provided funds via grants. Supporting organizations include United Way, Comisión Especial Conjunta de Fondos Legislativos (Puerto Rican government), American Baptist Home Mission Societies, a Baltimore area Lutheran Church, Housing and Urban Development, First Baptist Church in Caguas, Santander Bank, Scotiabank, and the Walmart Foundation. CorMA offers clinical training and internships for area university students primarily in the fields of social work and accounting.
Our connection to CorMA, the gratefulness expressed by the Puerto Rican people receiving the supplies, hearing their individual experiences during and after the storm, their fears of family separations, the ongoing lack of food, water, electricity, healthcare, employment and communication within the island and witnessing the overwhelming devastation to the island, prompted a need to do even more. Relating these concerns to many upon returning to Maryland and staying connected with CorMA, we obtained more donated supplies through a “Christmas in July and August” event at our church.
Our now annual trip to Puerto Rico with suitcases of supplies continued in April of 2019. Descending into San Juan, we saw numerous blue tarps still covering damaged structures. At CorMA, we brainstormed with them as to their future needs and helped distribute food to the most impoverished areas we had ever seen. Their most immediate need was a passenger van to transport clients to medical appointments and distribute food and supplies to area recipients.
Upon our return to Maryland in April, the vision of Hermandad, meaning fraternity, took root.
John worked all summer to locate a van. He secured a used passenger van donated by one of the Oglethorpe Inc. hospitals in Florida, who in turn, agreed to donate the van to (CorMA).
Hermandad paid for the shipping of the van from Florida to Puerto Rico and Hermandad’s first endeavor was realized.
Each trip has given us a greater understanding of the challenges faced by the Puerto Rican people. We learned many had the added burden of increased complications to their diabetes due to limited availability of fresh fruits and vegetables and were relying on canned food to sustain their diets. With so many deaths, displaced friends and family and isolation, their mental health needs were not addressed and have escalated. Constant fear stayed with them as hurricane season approached.
At the end of the year and into 2020, earthquakes created another challenge. With the rising number and unpredictability of their occurrence, people remain fearful and displaced again. Many are living outdoors due to newly damaged homes ever mindful of possible death should they stay in their homes. Cement homes generally withstand hurricanes, but collapse during earthquakes.
It is with friendship and mutual support we continue to advocate for the people of Puerto Rico through Hermandad, Inc.