Northeast Ohioans have donated several semi-trucks worth of supplies to aid Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
But now organizers of the aid effort have a big challenge: how to get all those goods to the people who need them. For now, the bottled water, canned food, diapers and other supplies sit on pallets at the IX Center.
This morning Irvin Maldonado oversaw volunteers cataloguing donations and readying them for shipment. By his count, there were about 420 pallets worth of goods.
“We have drivers that have donated their time, their trailers, their trucks, and they’re willing to get it to Miami, to wherever we have to go with it,” Maldonado said.
Transporting the supplies from Florida to Puerto Rico is a different question. Maldonado said two people from the Cleveland area have traveled to the island to work out the logistics.
In the meantime, Maldonado said he’s looking for help from anyone who can lend it: local leaders, corporations, churches in Puerto Rico, even celebrities with a private plane to spare.
“I wish I could replay phone calls to you that we’ve gotten from there, when they’re able to get a signal,” he said. “It’s nothing nice. You know, they’re crying. You know, ‘we’re starving, there’s no water, there’s no food.’ That breaks our hearts.”
Juan Molina Crespo, the executive director of Hispanic Alliance, said it’s still difficult to reach parts of the island outside the capital, San Juan.
“There’s going to be more of a dialogue in terms of how do we get these commodities from the docks into the municipalities,” Crespo said. “That is starting to happen, but it’s your major cities that are receiving the bulk of the donations now. The interior of the island is still devastated.”
Experts in humanitarian relief recommend giving money, rather than supplies, so that professional aid groups can buy what survivors need most.
Crespo said the Cleveland aid effort will begin emphasizing just that. Local community organizations plan to start fundraising this week with the help of the Cleveland Foundation. The money will go to the Puerto Rico Community Foundation and will be designated for hurricane relief.
“Because some commodities have a shelf life,” he said. “If the stuff starts sitting backlogged, either here on the stateside, or in Puerto Rico, and it’s not getting out, well, there’s a certain amount of damage that’s going to occur.”
As recovery work continues on the island, Crespo said community leaders should take up another project: resettling displaced Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens by birth, in Northeast Ohio.
“I think that we should, with open arms and very assertively, send a message to Puerto Ricans everywhere that Cleveland wants Puerto Ricans to come here,” he said.