Hurricane Supplies May Go to Waste

Supplies collected by Iniciativa Puertorriqueña for Puerto Rico relief efforts are held at a Goldenrod  Road warehouse owned by the Orange County government. The merchandise must be removed by 5 p.m. Monday. /Maria Padilla. Photo dated December 2017

Puerto Rico hurricane victims may never see thousands of pounds of food and other supplies collected in Central Florida as part of relief efforts.

Earlier this week, news reports indicated that hundreds of boxes of supplies at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office (PRFAA) in Kissimmee were potentially contaminated by rodents – supplies that should have made it to the island a while ago. The office said it sent 10,000 pounds of supplies to Puerto Rico, with remaining supplies to be distributed locally.

But the office, with a budget of about $200,000 a year and a few employees, closed its doors over a week ago. It probably should have been shuttered eons ago due to Puerto Rico’s ongoing steep money problems. It seems likely the rat-infested supplies must be thrown out.

But, wait, there’s more.

In a separate news item, Jimmy Torres-Velez of the group Iniciativa Ación Puertorrqueña put out a call on Facebook for the need to move or donate thousands of pounds of food and supplies from an Orange County Government warehouse off Goldenrod Road that his organization must vacate by 5 p.m. Monday.

Merchandise originally destined for Puerto Rico may be referred to other organizations. “It was our interest and we did everything within our reach, to send products to Puerto Rico, and we’re happy that were are able to do so,” Torres-Velez said in a Facebook note.

However, Iniciativa Puertorriqueña hopes the items at least reach “people who need it. For example, we are sharing clothing and water with communities in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and displaced or homeless people in Florida.”

In other words, tens of thousands of pounds of water and food supplies collected in the name of Puerto Rico hurricane victims may never reach people on the island, where over 25 percent of electricity customers still lack power, according to a Puerto Rico government estimate dated February 9.

Yeoman’s Effort

The Central Florida Puerto Rican diaspora made a yeoman’s effort to gather supplies for Puerto Rico. Torres-Vélez himself was nominated as a finalist in the Orlando Sentinel”s Central Floridian of the Year for “providing millions of pounds of relief supplies for victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” no mean feat.

Ultimately, Torres-Vélez and many others, including elected officials, were hindered by the logistics and expense of delivery.

As far back as October – or just two weeks after Hurricane María hit – Orlando Latino urged organizers, activists and others to “think locally,” as tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans began arriving in Florida in the initial wave of evacuees.

“Because Puerto Ricans in the states cannot control what does or does not happen on the island concerning relief supplies, the Florida diaspora should start thinking of boosting resources here.” See “Puerto Rican Diaspora: Think Local,” published October 10.

DNA of the Diaspora

However, it is written large in the DNA of the diaspora to rush to the aid of Puerto Rico every chance it gets.

That’s one reason why  Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, whose recovery efforts have raised a lot of questions and leave a lot to be desired, can travel to Central Florida last January and receive a hero’s welcome in Kissimmee, the heart of Florida’s Puerto Rico diaspora – even as rats and roaches were likely crawling all over hundreds of boxes of supplies meant for the hurricane-ravaged people of Puerto Rico.

The desire to rescue Puerto Rico, as noble as it may be, blinded many local people to the needs of newly arrived evacuees, many of whom could use the very supplies that may now go to the trash heap of history.

˜˜Maria T. Padilla, Editor

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