Caguas and Isla Verde – The lobby at the HIMA San Pablo Hospital in Caguas was buzzing like a beehive. People carried boxes filled with clothing, canned food, and basic necessities to the designated areas. Meanwhile, Mariní Vázquez shouted out instructions to the 60 volunteers who had been there since the early hours of the morning.
Vázquez, who is currently a community leader for the organization Naguabo Somos Todos, had worked before in disaster response efforts for the Red Cross during Hurricane Georges. On Saturday, she went to the HIMA Hospital in Caguas to assist in the efforts to send supplies to Culebra and the rest of the islands affected by Hurricane Irma.
She told us that she was immediately appointed by HIMA in Caguas to coordinate the set up of pallets with humanitarian aid kits for the refugees. Given the positive response from the citizens, they now faced the challenge of sorting the received items to then send them to Culebra and other islands affected by the hurricane.
“What we're doing is sorting everything into rapid-response kits, which include three pairs of pants, three shirts, underwear, and socks. Then they are grouped in dozens. We plan to bring these to the islands, and we can deliver them sorted into pants, shirts, and shoes. This will make things easier for the rescue teams in the islands,” Vázquez explained to NotiCel.
The most frequently donated item was clothing, especially shirts, pants, and shoes. This is why Vázquez urged donors to bring canned food, water, aloe vera to treat burns, adult diapers, and caps.
This has not been the hospital’s only initiative to help Irma’s victims. They also took in 17 patients who had been interned at the Schneider Regional Medical Center in St Thomas. Irma’s winds left the medical center without a roof and with no electricity service.
Another patient came from the Peebles Hospital in the island of Tortola, and they were expecting five more patients from the same hospital who had not yet been transported. Although she couldn’t go into great detail regarding the condition of these patients, Margarita Rodríguez, director of the HIMA San Pablo Group International Patient Department, noted that their physical and emotional needs are being covered.
“It has been overwhelming, because people have just swamped the call center with calls. Our call center does not have enough personnel to respond to all the calls and emails from people asking how they can help. So it has been very important for me to see how Puerto Ricans have turned out in droves, not only here in HIMA, but also in other areas in Puerto Rico that are also responding. This process has been very gratifying,” Rodríguez said.
Their effort was firmly supported by citizens who not only arrived with the requested items, but also stayed to help out with the tasks at the collection center. One of them was Senator José Dalmau Santiago, who got involved, along with his family, in helping out with the tasks there.
Although electricity has been restored to some parts of Caguas, including the hospital, Dalmau Santiago saw these demonstrations of solidarity as a testimony of Puerto Rican kindness before the devastation suffered by our neighbors in Culebra and the rest of the Antilles due to the powerful hurricane.
“The people of Puerto Rico are very generous and selfless. I think the best attribute we Puerto Ricans have is our desire to help. That selflessness arises at moments like this, and it makes us proud of who we are,” the senator stated.
“Viral” Solidarity Transforms the Verdanza Hotel
The call for basic necessities and supplies, which was led by the Verdanza Hotel, was successful thanks to its widespread dissemination through social media and a few radio stations.
In fact, it was so successful that the donations started piling up, forming a small mountain at the entrance of the hotel, which also helped lodge tourists and students seeking refuge while Hurricane Irma hit the Virgin Islands.
Hotel manager Ricardo Newman told NotiCel about how the initiative came to be, and how surprising the citizen response was, not only in terms of donations, but also those who stayed there to help in the collection efforts.
Watch his comments in the following video: