By now everyone should have already heard that Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria on September 20th, 2017, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma. The island was left completely without power, many without water or access to basic needs. Many people have generously donated via organizations, fund-raising campaigns or directly to family and/or friends. I was one of those that decided to accept donations so that I could send to families in Puerto Rico directly, and I just got back from delivering food to family in Puerto Rico. It was quite an experience! One that started way before I even made a decision to actually fly there to take the supplies myself. I felt the need to share my story since we all need a little more positivity in order to make progress.
I reached out to friends and family to ask for help with donations to send. Initially, many delivery services were not operational on the island (for a multitude of reasons). When the USPS started opening up some of their locations on the island, I decided to send two “tester” packages (one to my brother and another to my cousin) to ensure that they were indeed able to receive mail, before sending all of the donations we collected. I sent two large flat-rate boxes on September 30th, knowing that it would probably take longer than the average two to three day shipping. I monitored the tracking online but after October 3rd the updates stopped. I hoped and prayed that the packages would arrive despite the lack of updates. (Unfortunately, at this point in time -October 17th- those packages still have yet to appear and I will be following up with USPS and submitting a claim).
I started looking into other shipping options but very quickly decided that I would not be mailing anything as I was getting quotes for over $200 for a 30lb box (of which I had several). That’s when I decided that it would be cheaper to fly to Puerto Rico and deliver everything myself. I contaced JetBlue by phone last Wednesday and was helped by very pleasant lady who spent about 45 minutes to an hour helping me figuring out which airport, date and times would work best for me on such short notice without breaking the bank. I decided to fly out of Reagan National airport, which is about a four-hour drive from my home in Raleigh, NC. The entire trip cost me about the same as I would have paid if I’d decided to ship just one box via FedEx.
I arrived in Puerto Rico with about 200 pounds of food and thanks to all of the advice that I was given I am proud to say that NOTHING was taken out of my suitcases. So, how did I do it? Well, I packed three suitcases, each weighing 50 pounds. I packed the canned goods in paper bags (the kind that the grocery store packs your groceries in) with the items for each family and then I wrapped those bags in plastic wrap and taped it to make sure the plastic didn’t “accidentally” peel off. I placed those wrapped packages inside the suit case and then use a TSA approved lock to secure everything. My bags were opened by TSA for inspection and they placed a sheet of paper inside my bag to inform me. I also learned that it might be helpful to wrap boxes that are being shipped with plastic wrap and tape to prevent a punctured can, from your box or another, from spilling and breaking the cardboard box and thus making it impossible for the carrier to know which items belong to which package/address).
My brother and I traveled from Toa Baja to Cabo Rojo delivering food during my one-and-a-half days there and here’s what what I observed:
- Puerto Ricans are so incredibly resilient, resourceful and determined to get the island back to what it was (hopefully better)!
- Strangers are willing to help each other.
- Trying to cross intersections with no traffic signals was dangerous, but I survived!
- The heat was no joke! I was so grateful that my brother had a generator but my heart broke just thinking about all those that aren’t so fortunate.
- The mosquitos are relentless! Bug spray and citronella candles are in high demand (and not that easily available).
- There were plenty of restaurants (and other businesses) open and serving a pretty complete menu and every one we stopped at was busy.
- Street lights and traffic lights were on in several towns including, Camuy, Mayagüez and just east of Aguadilla while driving on PR-2.
- There is a lot of work to be done to repair the cables and light posts (even the cement ones) but driving throughout the island I saw several trucks that were not from the island.
- Police were directing traffic at some of the major intersections.
- We drove through PR-111 to Lares but had to detour. Luckily anyone who we stopped to ask for directions gladly helped us make our way back PR1111.
- We saw several military vehicles and helicopters throughout our travels.
- Cell service was very spotty!! When driving on main roads we would see clusters of cars parked on the shoulder. Those areas had cell service and you could see them all on their phones in their cars.
- Many trees were knocked down or left without leaves, but the greenery is growing back and many views that were obstructed before are now visible.
- We were lucky to find gas easily and didn’t have long wait times. We did see several gas stations that still had long lines but down the street there were gas stations that were open and didn’t have a long line (if at all).
The road to recovery is a long one but things are getting better little by little. I’m not trying to minimize, in any way, what has happened or the fact that some areas are in serious need of assistance. Being without power for weeks with no idea when your power will return can surely frustrate anyone. I do, however, strongly believe that if we all keep doing our part and helping each other that Puerto Rico WILL overcome this!
I’ve included images from my trip. See captions for details.