Aid efforts after Maria, and how you can help

by Oct 9, 2017Headlines, Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands0 comments

In the aftermath of disasters it can be really difficult to discern what is being done to help. It seems that organizations take donations but it’s hard to know who you should donate to, who is doing what, and what the best ways to help are. News stories seem to pour forth, some positive, some negative, none seeming to paint a clear picture. We realize that we aren’t the first publishing about aid efforts, but we hope to be the most complete to date. So, we scoured the internet to give you the best information possible. This article will tackle the questions: What is the US government doing to help Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands? What is the impact of celebrity efforts? What about big companies? What are Pasquines’ top picks for the best charities to donate to? What other charities and organizations are working on relief efforts?


What is the US government doing to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands?

The US government relief effort to Puerto Rico has been said to be equal to that of their relief efforts following Harvey and Irma. However, Puerto Rico faces damages beyond what was seen in those two storms, and the Puerto Rican government is saying that it is simply just not enough. So far, there are 5,000 active-duty troops and National Guardsmen in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Government groups such as the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers are also working hard to open the islands’ ports to allow for shipments of supplies to make it on the islands faster. FEMA has also been deployed, and has about 600 people working, and the USNS Comfort, a hospital ship, is finally on its way.

The financial situation of the archipelago is controlled by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, and Governor Rosselló has been vocal in criticizing them for only approving $1 billion for relief efforts. While that seems like a lot of money, early estimates of the cost of rebuilding put the figure at around $30 billion. While charities and aid organizations will be able to use their donated money to help rebuild, a less tight budget from the government would certainly help.

Rosselló also fought for the restrictive Jones Act to be (at least temporarily) lifted. The Jones act, a little known, but restrictive law that requires that all shipments between US ports be made on US controlled, made, and manned ships. This act has already been accused of restricting the Puerto Rican economy and causing some of its past economic strife, but in the wake of a disaster it is unnecessarily limiting, and is keeping badly needed supplies from reaching the island in any form possible. A request to waive the act was rejected by President Trump on Tuesday the 26, who said that it would not help the problem with the ports in Puerto Rico, a rather tone-deaf response. However, Rosselló remains positive that he can move Congress to act to create an emergency waiver.

The act was finally waived the 28th of September amid mounting criticism of Trump and the government’s response to the disaster. This comes as lack of supplies like diesel has lead to deaths in hospitals that ran out of fuel for their generators. The Jones Act will be waived for only 10 days, which is a start, but not enough. That is only 10 days where boats and crews of any kind will be allowed to bring supplies into the islands, but Puerto Rico will be needing aid and support for much longer. The president is being further criticized that his response is cold hearted and focuses on business interests, after the fact that a bankruptcy of one of his golf courses in Puerto Rico cost taxpayers there nearly $33 million, contributing to their debt crisis, for which he has criticized them.


What is the impact of celebrity efforts?

Celebrities all over the US have been making sizeable donations to the islands and various relief efforts. Jennifer Lopez’s parents are Puerto Rican, and she feels a strong connection to the islands and the people. She has donated $1 million to aid efforts, as well as payed for two planes to fly supplies to the islands directly. Another star of Puerto Rican descent, Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has been prompting his Twitter followers to donate to the Hispanic Federation.

The former living presidents of the United States have also expanded their One Appeal effort to include Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Voces Por Puerto Rico (Voices for Puerto Rico) is a collaboration among various artists of Puerto Rican descent including Gina Rodriguez from Jane the Virgin, to gather donations for relief efforts. Pitbull, a Cuban-American, is sending his private jet to help shuttle cancer patients needing treatment from hospitals in Puerto Rico to hospitals on the mainland.


What about big companies?

There has been a rather large response from large multinational corporations who are keen on aiding Puerto Rico. Cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have joined in the cause to help deliver food, water, and supplies. This is necessary because the airport was badly damaged in the storm. Carnival also pledged $10 million to help aid for victims across the Caribbean and Florida.

Royal Caribbean has decided to cancel all cruises on its Adventure of the Seas vessel, and instead it has ‘press-ganged’ the ship and crew into evacuation and humanitarian efforts. The ship will stop in San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Croix to unload donated supplies in each location, and load up evacuees. The evacuees will be taken to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Norwegian Cruise Line has also joined in the effort and is raising money with the All Hands organization. They have a donations goal of $2.5 million and the cruise line has pledged to match up to $1.25 million of donations.

The Bristol-Myers Squibb company has several facilities in Puerto Rico, and has reached out to help those suffering. The company has contacted employees in Puerto Rico to aid them personally in their recovery. Their foundation has donated $250,000 in cash to emergency relief efforts.

Sprint and AT&T have teams on the ground working to get their cell towers operational as fast as possible. Their efforts have included bringing generators to the islands as backup power sources, as well as deploying teams of engineers to begin working on the situation ASAP. AT&T and T-Mobile have also waved cellphone charges for those hit by the storm who need to contact loved ones and help. Verizon is giving $1 million to to relief efforts in Puerto Rico through partnerships with the American Red Cross and World Vision.

Other companies such as WalMart and Johnson & Johnson have not pledged any particular aid, but have made statements that they are doing their best to keep up with demand in the region, and to make sure that necessary supplies remain stocked in stores. Lowe’s has committed $3 million in total to relief efforts in Puerto Rico and Mexico, while UPS will aid FEMA in delivering ready-to-eat-meals.

Mark Zuckerberg is well known for his charitable efforts through Facebook to provide communications in the developing world, and he is continuing this commitment by aiding the return of communications in Puerto Rico. Facebook has mobilized their connectivity team to help get cell towers and telecommunications systems up and running as fast as possible. Facebook also donated $1.5 million to NetHope and the World Food Programme. Other large companies, such as Starbucks and Google have pledged large donations of funds for Puerto Rico. Google also activated a person finder service to help people find their loved ones after the disaster. Their crisis map was activated, which features live updates on weather, traffic, public alerts, and shelter location and information. Bacardi has donated $2 million to relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Even universities are stepping up. The University of Central Florida has announced that it will allow displaced students from Puerto Rico to have access to in-state tuition rates. While this might not seem like much, it is a huge discount. In-state tuition is around $6,000 per year, vs $22,000 per year for out-of-state students. This initiative could potentially save students who have to evacuate the mainland from delaying their studies.


What are Pasquines’ top picks for the best charities to donate to?

After the aid scandals following the earthquakes in Haiti, and accusations of fund misuse following Hurricane Harvey, it’s easy to feel defeated. What is the point of donating if your money won’t end up helping? How can you tell what organization to donate to? In the case of Puerto Rico, one of the best things you can do is donate to local organizations that operate from the island. Why? A locally based organization won’t leave after the emergency phase. They are more likely to be able to identify which kinds of aid and help locals need most because they already know the communities.

One of the charities we recommend is ConPRmetidos. This organization is based in Puerto Rico and has decided to focus their efforts in the near future on disaster relief and recovery. I reached out to ConPRMetidos to ask if they could give some details about their plans for donated money. According to a spokesperson for ConPRmetidos they have a pretty impressive plan, that, not only looks at providing immediate relief, but also towards long-term rebuilding projects. They have three main areas that they are working on: Needs Assessment, Long Term Structural Repairs, and Power as Service.

For Needs Assessment they are working with ConnectRelief, which is a crowdsourcing platform that allows Puerto Ricans to share, in real time, what their communities need. They are also working with the Puerto Rican National Guard as well, and keeping track of which organization has done what, and, what they weren’t able to do, so that further relief efforts can be correctly focused.

Using their partnerships, they have pinpointed certain vulnerable and marginalized communities to focus on for long-term structural repairs including: Puente Blanco, Juana Matos, Vietnam, Amelia/Sabana and the Municipality of Culebra. They will help rebuilding efforts that aren’t covered under FEMA’s capacity. On this topic the spokesperson wrote, “We already know the limits of FEMA’s capabilities and focus. For example if a homeowner has built an added structure to the house for an extended family, that structure, if damaged is not covered by FEMA.  Residents without property titles aren’t covered either. Certain electrical appliances essential to life in the Caribbean are not covered either. Our fund will help in those instances. We are committed with the long-term, sustainable recovery and rebuilding.”

Their third focus area is Power as Service. As we have reported, Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure was destroyed by the two hurricanes, and its future remains very uncertain. In order to combat this, ConPRmetidos will use donated funds towards off-the-grid sustainable solutions for vulnerable communities. You can donateon their Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund page. They have increased their goal to $10 million in order to fund their commitment to sustainable energy solutions for Puerto Rico.

Another locally run effort to provide relief is Unidos Por Puerto Rico, an initiative created by Beatriz Rosselló, the First Lady of Puerto Rico. The First Lady is no stranger to running relief initiatives, and has several successful projects under her belt. The initiative is collaborating with the private sector to provide relief and support on the island. The initiative is also taking private donations. We reached out to Unidos por Puerto Rico for comments, but we have not received a reply as of yet regarding their specific projects and efforts.

Some other local organizations are also accepting donations. If you prefer a religious organization, Caritas Puerto Rico is also taking donations. Fondos Unidos is a local charity that has been operating in Puerto Rico for 45 years, and is well mobilized to help local communities. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico is a community foundation in Puerto Rico that specializes in education, housing, economic development and communities. Donating to them will help them continue their long term projects.

A unique effort is being made by a group called Diasporicans, whose goal is to “unite the Diaspora with Puerto Rico”. They are an open-source website whose goal is simple to help spread information about Puerto Rico. Including helping people connect with loved ones on the island, providing information on where, how, and what to donate (there are collection centers for material goods across the US), and giving updates on relief efforts.

For dog lovers there are several organizations that are doing good work rescuing canines. The Sato project has been operating on the South Eastern shores of the island for 6 years. They work their to rescue strays and abandoned dogs, give them medical treatment, rehabilitate them, and send them to the mainland to find forever homes. They have started a fund for expanding their efforts following the hurricane, and allow them to rescue more animals they find trapped or in need of help. Island dog is a local organization working to spay/neuter stray dogs, provide them with food and medicine, and educate the public about spaying/neutering their dogs. They don’t seem to have set up a specific emergency fund, but donating will help them get back up and running. Second Chance Animal Rescue is a non profit that rescues, rehabilitates, finds loving homes for abandoned and abused dogs found on the streets of Puerto Rico. They are collecting funds currently because they have only one faculty member at the facility. There is no running water, electricity, and they are running out of food. Outdoor kennels were destroyed. They need emergency funds to rebuild so they can continue rescuing animals. All Sato Rescue, a similar non-profit rescue organization, fared better in the storm than Second Chance, but they are running low on supplies and cash and need donations to keep things running in the tough months ahead. Paws Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society is a no kill shelter that accepts donations to keep it running. There are no hurricane updates on its site, however, this does not mean a donation wouldn’t help. The same can be said for the Humane Society of Puerto Rico.


What other charities and organizations are working on relief efforts?

Charity Navigator has their own list of charities providing relief which you can check here. However, we think it’s important to compare and contrast these organizations to help you choose one you trust, and whose mission you believe in. Here is a brief list comparing different relief efforts and organizations.

The American Red Cross is taking donations for their relief efforts. In Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands they are helping with shelters, food and other necessities. However, as Vox noted in their article, the American Red Cross has been widely criticized for mis-managed efforts in the last 10 years, including their efforts following Hurricane Harvey. A good alternative would be Oxfam, who are collecting funds to help supply clean water, sanitation, and hygiene supplies across the Caribbean.

United-Way of Miami Dade has teamed up with several other organizations to create a relief project for victims of all the recent hurricanes and the Mexican earthquakes. You can donate here. The Salvation Army is collecting funds for a similar effort. Global Giving is accepting donations for its partner organizations operating in Puerto Rico. Convoy of Hope is also collecting for disaster relief.

If you would like to donate to organizations providing medical supplies there are a few good options. Americares focuses on bringing medical supplies to communities that need them. They are collecting funds to continue delivering emergency medicine to communities across the Caribbean that were affected by Maria. Medshare is also collecting money for victims of Hurricane Maria to supply them with medical care. Heart to Heart International’s response teams are deployed in Puerto Rico. Donations help with their mobile medical units, provide medicines, and supplies. Project Hope will also use funds to deploy volunteer teams to give health care. The International Medical Corps is taking donations to provide emergency medical care, clean water, proper sanitation in areas hit by the hurricane.

Save the Children is collecting Donations for Puerto Rico. Although they are not themselves a local organization, they are working with local organizations to assess needs.

All Hands is taking donations to help build schools with their partner organization Happy Hearts Fund. For people reluctant to donate to an emergency relief fund due to fears of fund misuse, this is a good alternative to donate to a longer-term rebuilding effort.

Earlier on we mentioned the One America One Appeal, a group organized by the living former presidents to provide disaster relief to those hit by Harvey, Irma, and Maria. While it seems to be a solid organization, in Puerto Rico it simply distributes some of its funds to Unidos Por Puerto Rico. If you want to donate directly to Puerto Rico, you can do it directly through Unidos (already listed above). However, if you are interested to donating to a general relief org, this is a solid pick.

You can also donate to Direct Relief, an organization specialized in, you guessed it, direct disaster relief. They even have a feature allowing you to choose what disaster relief effort you would like to support.

ICNA Relief is an organization operating on Muslim values. According to their websites during disasters they work to provide, “Mass feeding for survivors, Facilitate volunteers for shelters for evacuees, Facilitate medical professionals to help survivors, Deliver hygiene kits to survivors, Mucking-out and gutting-out cleanup efforts, Disaster casework/management.” They also make a note of the fact that they don’t necessarily perform all these tasks in every disaster, only the ones where it is necessary.

NetHope is an organization that Facebook recently donated to, that works to connect communities through telecommunications access. Following Maria, they have deployed emergency teams throughout the Caribbean to restore connectivity and help information get to aid agencies.

If you are a horse lover, you can also donate to a special fund to help any horses affected by the hurricanes. That’s right, the US Equestrian Foundation will be using their Equine Disaster Relief Fund to aid horses in the Caribbean. According to their website 100% of the money donated will be put towards, “providing feed, medical supplies, and support to the many horses, ponies, and donkeys.”