Five Salvation Army advisory board members just returned from a week helping with the ongoing relief in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria. Along with Salvation Army Officers and Emergency Disaster Services staff, these dedicated volunteers traveled daily to the warehouse in Caguas and load up water, food boxes, portable stoves, propane tanks, whatever was needed in the village they would visit that day.
Along the main line, running water and electricity have returned to businesses, but very few street lights or traffic lights function. People’s homes do not have running water or power nearly five months after Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico. If people are fortunate to have a generator, they can get some electricity to their homes, but most of those who have stayed are still in the dark.
In the mountain villages, dysentery has returned to the island as people are so desperate for water, they drink it untreated. It is estimated that up to 1 million Puerto Ricans have left the island to seek out stable employment and living conditions in the lower 48. The population has shrunk almost overnight from 3.5 million to 2.5 million and many have stayed because they simply can not afford to leave. Those experiencing poverty on the island find themselves in abject desperation.
Anticipating these grim realities, Greater Boston Advisory Board Member Lorie Davis had planned ahead to bring some sweets for children she encountered. In a village while the team was distributing food boxes and bottled water, Lorie pulled a Tootsie Roll from her pocket to give to a young boy in line.
“He took the Tootsie Roll and handed me his little toy truck.” Davis explains in tears. “No, I said, ‘You get both!'”
His grin only grew as he stepped back to his mother’s side.
“That interaction with that young man is emblematic of what we’ve experienced all week,” Davis shares. “The people of Puerto Rico don’t just want to take. They want to give. They want life to be balanced again. Everywhere we went, people helped us to unload trucks, but they also turned quickly to help a neighbor carry water to a vehicle or a senior who didn’t have assistance.”