Students unite behind Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico is still recovering from destruction caused by Hurricane Maria (Photo Courtesy of Emily Ramírez ’18).

Trang Le

In an effort to help relieve the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, students have united to coordinate both a fundraiser and donation drive on campus. 

Emily Ramírez ‘18 created a Facebook page, United for Puerto Rico: Lafayette College, this past Monday, advertising the week-long fundraiser. Fundraising efforts were initially started through the nation-wide GoFundMe page that began September 20 and has raised over $165,000, but the students involved in fundraising wanted to do more on campus, Ramírez said.

“We’re collecting through Venmo and also cash. Nina Cotto’s family knows someone who’s collecting to send donations directly to Puerto Rico,” she said.

In addition to monetary donations, the fundraiser is also asking for physical donations such as toiletries and first aid supplies.

“They really need the basic necessities like feminine hygiene products, toilet paper or baby diapers. We have the full list on the Facebook page” Ramírez said. The list includes other items such as mosquito repellent, blankets and bottled water.

After the first day the student-run Venmo fundraiser for Puerto Rico had received $641. The initial goal was $1,000, but they’ve been approaching that goal quicker than expected.

“Our current goal is to raise as much as possible,” Gabriel Salgado ’20 said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, they have received $700 via Venmo and $374 in cash.

According to Ramírez, while some of the proceeds will go toward buying essential supplies to donate for the island, most would be transferred to Unidos por Puerto Rico, a public-private initiative started by the office of the First Lady Beatriz Isabel Roselló.

The island is currently still recovering and working on reestablishing power and communication grids. Ninety-five percent of the country is still without power as of Wednesday, according to CBS News. Additionally, The Department of Defense is both attempting restore communications with AT&T cell towers, as well as  distributing supplies and clearing roadways.

Along with students whose families are in Puerto Rico, Physics professor David Nice has experienced communication problems with people on the island while conducting research.

Nice and students rely on data from a radio telescope in Puerto Rico which collects radio waves. While the telescope itself received minor damage, power outages have made communicating with the radio facility challenging.

“A challenge is that island-wide power outages have made it extremely difficult to communicate with the observatory,” Nice explained. “The first contacts were actually done by amateur radio people at the observatory who would call people on the edge of the island who then, in turn, would contact people back in continental U.S.”

“Apparently they now have a satellite phone there so they can talk to people,” he added.

While Nice notes these problems are disruptive, he also recognizes the importance of the overall recovery of the island and is relieved that as far as he knows the laboratory staff is safe.

“It’s something we can manage. And of course, there’s a lot of damage to property and houses on the island, so one big concern is with people who lost their houses or whose houses are heavily damaged,” Nice said. “So far as I know, I haven’t heard of any death or injuries of people who are working at the observatory.”

While communications are expected to remain down some time, and the New York Times reported that ordinary life on the island is “beyond reach,” students and community members are doing what they can to aid in the recovery.

The Center for Community Engagement is also serving as a drop-off center for donations for victims of both Puerto Rico and Mexico, which was recently hit by a destructive earthquake earlier this month, to be donated through Easton Promise Neighborhood, Community Partnerships Coordinator Chelsea Cefalu said. Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley is an organization focused on leading children to success.

Cefalu said the college was approached by a local College Hill resident who asked for their assistance in collecting items similar to those being collected by students such as towels, blankets, flashlights, diapers, and first aid kits.

Though donations at the center for community engagement were only collected until 10 a.m. on Friday, students can continue to make monetary donations for Puerto Rico via Venmo, at @Lafcol4PR.

Tristan Sohrab ’21 and Claire Grunewald ’20 contributed reporting.