Drop-off locations around campus accepting item donations for those affected by Hurricane Maria

Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 6:33pm

The Ann Arbor chapter of Puerto Rico Rises, a nonprofit organization from Florida, will be collecting donations for those affected by the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Maria. The Category 4 hurricane, which struck the island on Sept. 20, has created a total power outage across the nation and left only 20 percent of the island with water service. As of right now, seven percent of the island has power back and 47 percent have access to potable water.

Puerto Rico Rises Ann Arbor is composed of local Puerto Ricans related to the University of Michigan as staff, graduate students, alumni or through some other affiliation. According to a press release, drop-off locations will be on campus to provide students and faculty with direct access to donate until Oct. 12.

“We have established five drop-off locations at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. These will be collecting household, personal hygiene, and food items through October 12. Items are being transported to New York City along with additional donations from the greater Detroit area. Once in NYC, donations will be received by the Puerto Rican Family Institute,” the press release reads. “This non-profit health and human services agency, based in New York, is our strategic partner in the transportation of all collected supplies to Puerto Rico.”

With about 500 employees, the Puerto Rican Family Institute is collaborating with the state government of New York to ensure all donations will be distributed to those in need in Puerto Rico in a timely and definite manner.

On-campus drop-off locations include the Michigan League, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning PIBS Lounge, the School of Engineering Office of Student Affairs, the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, and the Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach mailbox. Eight satellite locations are also available around Ann Arbor for donations. A complete listing of these locations, as well as dates and times each drop-off location will be available, can be found through the organization’s website.

The organization lists a range of items that can be donated, specifically falling under the categories of household items (such as batteries, solar lanterns and disinfecting wipes) personal hygiene items (such as hand sanitizer, feminine hygiene products and shampoo/conditioner) and food (including canned goods, bottled water and canned baby formula).

University alum Rosemarie Figueroa, one of Puerto Rico Rises Ann Arbor’s five co-founders, spoke of the organization's deep connections with citizens of Puerto Rico. She explained how, through meetings with representatives and conference calls with those currently on the island, it is able to accurately determine the necessity for certain items.

“What we are asking for is what we already know is needed,” she said.

The items in high demand include mosquito repellent (needed to ward off swarms of mosquitoes that became widespread throughout the island with the storm’s rising water levels) adult diapers (an item often neglected as most diapers donated are those designed for infants), and water purifiers, which she stated some donors chose to purchase online through Amazon and sent directly to a drop-off center.

Figueroa explained the organization's goal is to receive from donations from the whole state in addition to large quantities to collaborate and provide assistance to Puerto Rico in the most effective and beneficial way possible.

“Instead of in terms of quantity, our goal is to be as united as possible,” she said. “Our main goal was (to have) everyone together from Michigan for Puerto Rico, instead of just scattered groups trying to do their own thing, so it’s more organized dealing with logistics.”

She also addressed the concern some might have as to whether donations are making their way to the island and the places they are needed most, such as the west side of the island. She affirmed the Ann Arbor organization has been working closely with the Puerto Rican Family Institute to ensure local donations channeled to them are successfully reaching the island.

“The short answer is yes, we’ve got this. No need to worry … we have been in direct contact with the nonprofit, people in the government, people in Puerto Rico, volunteers,” she said. “When we decided to join this nonprofit, it was actually with a purpose. ... We didn’t pick any organization, but one that we trusted and we looked into a lot before actually stepping in.”

Central Student Government, with the help of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and Rackham Student Government, has helped publicize donation efforts, tweeting a statement of solidarity with those in Puerto Rico and encouraging students to donate.

[twitter: https://twitter.com/umcsg/status/914704316753117184]

CSG communications director Cassie Fields, an LSA senior, spoke of the importance of supporting ongoing campus efforts, especially those that affect communities on campus.

“We don’t want to be disrupting the meaningful work that is already happening right now, so it is our duty to amplify it. These drop-off sites are one of the ways that students and community members can get involved and actually contribute to these relief efforts,” she said. “Anushka (Sarkar, CSG president) and the rest of our administration are heartbroken by the size and scale of the devastation that we’re seeing right now in Puerto Rico, especially with what is shaping up to be a frustrating and slow recovery, and we think that it’s important for everybody to stand in solidarity not just with our students’ homes and families that have been impacted, but with all of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico who have been affected by this.”

With the support of many different groups on campus, organizers hope students and community members looking to donate will actively seek out resources readily available to them. Figueroa said though some might feel a disconnect to the island or those in need, all efforts and contributions will help those in the face of disaster to rebuild and restore the place they call home.

“We have been carefully, but in a fast pace, setting up all the logistics, and they will get there,” she said. “I know we are far but we have so many Puerto Ricans here and we have so many connections to the island that we don’t feel that far at all.”