It will take a long time for Puerto Rico to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria that hit the Caribbean in late September. Just weeks later, Mayor Bill DeBlasio showed real leadership when New York City opened the Hurricane Evacuee Service Center (HESC) in East Harlem’s Julia De Burgos Latino Cultural Center, at Lexington and 106th St.
At the center, displaced persons from Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands can find all kinds of support.
At the center this week, City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito stood in front a rack of new children’s jackets and along with assisting partners spoke to the press to both draw attention to the services offered and all those involved in supporting these services.
It’s been estimated there are 2,000 in this area, 5,000 statewide displaced persons from the hurricane. Families are not prepared for winter; at the center they can get new winter coats and jackets, “a blessing from the private partnerships,” said the speaker.
Recognizing that many who have come from the islands brought nothing and while setting up a new household are in need of bedding and house wares, also available at the center. Thus far, the center has seen people from 482 households, helping 1539 individuals. More than 6500 items have been distributed.
The speaker also reiterated the mayor, “We will not forget Puerto Rico.”
Mark-Viverito reported that $200,000 has been pledged from New Yorkers through the Mayor’s Fund website, voluntary payroll donations from New York city employees, and a month-long campaign led by iHeartMedia since the hurricane.
Darren Bloch, executive director of the Mayor’s Fund explains that the non-profit Fund has been set up to collect monies to respond to areas of focus in need. Three hundred city employees traveled to Puerto Rico to help. New York City has approximately 780,00 residents of Puerto Rican descent.
“This (federal) administration’s response has been woefully inadequate,” Mark-Viverito said. “Especially compared to the response in Florida and Texas.”
Speaker Mark-Viverito mentioned that in addition to the funds collected, tons of much needed supplies have been sent to Puerto Rico, “We will help support Puerto Rico in whatever way possible going forward.”
At the center, families meet with professionals for needs assessment. There, they are guided to services provided by Departments of Social Services, Health and Mental Hygiene (medical care in collaboration with NYC Health + Hospitals), Aging, Education, as well as legal assistance, American Red Cross, animal care, and interfaith services.
The center is not taking any material donations; all cash donations should be directed to the Mayor’s Fund.
At the press conference, Puerto Rican actress Luna Valez spoke, also showing support. She pleaded with the public not to forget Puerto Rico.
Among the many private partners are Macy’s and Target along with assisting organizations New York Disaster Interfaith Services, Salvation Army, Hispanic Federation and Delivery Good.