Western Massachusetts, home to a large Puerto Rican population, is mobilizing relief efforts for the island that was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Springfield Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola, who was born in Puerto Rico, volunteered the Election Office in City Hall as a donation site for relief supplies. After putting the word out on social media over the weekend, Oyola came to work Monday morning and found people lined up with cases of first aid kits, soaps, cleaning supplies, baby wipes and other items.
"Anyone here with family in Puerto Rico the biggest part is worrying about how your family is doing, so to see so many people locally are as concerned and wanting to help out it really hits my heart in a good place," said Oyola.
A coalition of political leaders, nonprofit organizations, churches, and community activists based in Springfield, Holyoke, and Westfield announced Friday the formation of Western Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico. They plan to organize donation drives and fundraising events and work with the government of Puerto Rico to distribute the aid.
In addition to Springfield City Hall, other drop-off sites include community centers and library branches. Details are available on the city of Springfield’s website. http://www.springfield-ma.gov/cos/index.php?id=2701
" We are taking pretty much everything that is non-perishable," said Oyola.
Oyola said several members of her family live in Puerto Rico, including her grandparents.
" We've been trying desperately to communicate with my grandparents, and we've heard through friends they are ok. They don't have power, but fortunately they do have water," said Oyola.
Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, director of the Healing Racism Institute of the Pioneer Valley, said the residents of Puerto Rico desperately need help.
" I was in four hurricanes when I lived in Puerto Rico, so I just knew we had to mobilize the local community and have a unified effort," said Lugo-DeJesus.
The coalition has opened an account for monetary donations at Freedom Credit Union, which has pledged to match donations up to $5,000.
" All the funds collected are going directly to Puerto Rican organizations that are working with the hurricane victims," said Lugo-DeJesus.
Nueva Esperanza in Holyoke has been collecting relief supplies for Puerto Rico since Hurricane Irma hit the island on September 6th.
The Westfield Spanish American Union is planning to set up its own drop-off center.
The Springfield Public Schools will collect donations this Thursday and Friday from students and parents, but not from members of the general public.