Nonprofits on Syracuse’s West Side to send donations to Puerto Rico this month
Nonprofits to send donations to Puerto Rico
Nearly six weeks after Hurricane Maria decimated the island of Puerto Rico, the effects of the storm are still being felt on the island and in Syracuse. The city is home to nearly 12,000 people of Puerto Rican descent, according to the U.S. Census. These ties to the island have made Syracuse a hub for relief efforts.
“It was really awful to see this devastation in our homeland,” said Teresita Paniagua, the executive director at La Casita Cultural Center at Syracuse University. “It hit very hard in the Puerto Rican community on and off campus here in Syracuse.”
She described La Casita’s role right now as being a point of contact and a source of information, trying to get the word out about relief efforts in Syracuse.
She said that the two largest and most concentrated efforts have come from The Spanish Action League, also known as La Liga, and Pastor Moises Rivera. Both of these initiatives are located on the West Side of Syracuse and have been collecting goods like nonperishable food, flashlights, batteries and hygiene products to send to the island.
Jesús Rolón, the executive assistant at La Liga, said he will be flying home to Puerto Rico in early November to deliver the donations that the nonprofit has been collecting since Hurricane Maria hit. These donations include seeds, which Rolón said he hopes will help to regrow and rebuild the island by providing food and a source of pride for their gardeners.
The money that La Liga has collected will go toward transporting Rolón and the donated goods to the island and distributing the donated goods.
“A lot of people wanted to know how exactly we are sending these donations because they don’t trust other groups sometimes,” he said, referring to community members that are wary to donate. “So we promise them we’ll do it ourselves.”
Rolón said he is grateful that community members trust La Liga to deliver the donations and that they are helping in whatever way they can. He said that the poverty in Syracuse for many Puerto Ricans is a challenge to giving, but one that is not stopping them.
“Someone wrote me a check for $5,” he said. “We appreciated that so much and they knew that they could help someone. All of us can do something.”
Rivera has dedicated a large storage space in the basement of his church, Iglesia La Gran Sinagoga at 108 Grace St. on the Westside, to gathering donations. He has partnered with the YWCA of Syracuse & Onondaga Inc. and ministries around the country to fill a shipping container of donations to be sent to the island by November 10, said Luz Encarnacion, who has been working closely with Rivera on this relief effort and is the point of contact for the YWCA.
Encarnacion said she feels that working with Rivera’s church and other ministries is good for the spirit of the work they are doing.
“I think the church reaches a different population,” she said. “Church members are good community members: they’re kind and they understand the needs of the community. When you work with churches, they are very welcoming and helpful and supportive.”
Rivera agreed and said that his faith helps him feel connected to this cause.
“I did it with the Dominicans and Haiti,” he said of his previous relief efforts. “I believe Jesus wants me to go to help the people. I know God is helping me to do this and I thank him for that.”
Paniagua said that a lot of the donations coming out of Syracuse will go to a small town on the east coast of the island called Loiza, because a large portion of the Puerto Ricans in the city are from there.
Once Rolón and Rivera return from distributing their donations in Puerto Rico, they said they are open to fundraising and collecting more donations to return. Paniagua said that she thinks the commitment of the Syracuse community to the Puerto Rican community is for the long run.
“Everybody knows this is not a one-shot deal that we send aid and everything will be okay in a few weeks or a few months,” she said. “Sometimes it feels like you move two steps forward and four steps back. This is not going to be resolved any time soon and support is going to be needed for a long, long time.”
Aside from the donations, both Rivera’s group and La Casita are aiding people as they arrive in Syracuse from Puerto Rico following the hurricane.
“Syracuse became one of the welcoming cities for victims of the hurricane,” Encarnacion said. “When victims are coming in, we send them to the church so we can provide for them. We want them to have a good starting point.”
Food and clothing are only the beginning, though. She said the church will help them find resources in the area like social services, help applying for government aid and jobs that people who speak little to no English can hold.
“It’s all about finding different ways the people of Puerto Rico can get support,” Encarnacion said.
Paniagua said that La Casita is also looking into what support Puerto Rican SU students might need. She said that may come in the form of additional financial aid, help communicating with their families on the island or help situating loved ones displaced because of the storm.
“I’ve met several families who have already begun to move into the city, people that have family here or a friend that is able to provide a landing pad,” she said. “They are looking for jobs and a home and schools for their kids and they need a lot of help and support.”
Paniagua flew her own family up from Puerto Rico after the hurricane and is working to find jobs and schools for them, too. She said that they were extremely shaken when they arrived in mid-October but that they are beginning to settle into their new life in Syracuse.
“It takes a while to settle down and feel okay about feeling okay again,” she said. “It’s hard when you know so many people are not okay down there. It’s always in the back of your mind how many people are back on the island that don’t have the support we have been able to give our family.”
Many more families are expected to make the journey from Puerto Rico to Syracuse in the coming weeks. Paniagua said she expects there to be “an avalanche of new families” on the way.
“It’s an incredibly life-changing experience,” she said. “Even for those of us who did not suffer the disaster because we were here while all of this was happening. To see how this is changing our families and the way things were, it’s like starting all over to make a new life.”