20/22 Recipients Stand Up
It’s three weeks later, and everyone’s lives have been changed by Hurricane Maria. The damage to our home and office is not worth mentioning in comparison to the devastation on the island. What is worth mentioning is how people react when times get tough. There are those who will not return to the island anytime soon. Maybe next year, perhaps the following, but the truth is likely not at all.
Things are bad. The economy is at a standstill. The country is effectively bankrupt. Credit markets are cut off. Trump visits and throws paper towels and claims we are having fun. What do we do? What can we do? We either cut and run or stay and fight.
I often mention that I made a 20-year deal with the government but a five-year deal with my wife, Tara. That five-year deal was effectively up for renewal right when Maria hit. When I asked her what she wanted to do, there was no hesitation. Stand up and help.
We started by working with a sweet lady, Rachel Cohen, from Guaynabo, who had a crazy notion of chartering 737s. She had a travel agency in Miami that would handle everything if we could just spread the word and organize the passengers and their info.
We helped fill two 737s with about 300 people after spending three full days collecting passenger information and organizing people (we make horrible travel agents) and flew a lot of desperate people off the island. One of those was a 14-year-old local boy stranded on the island with his grandfather. His Puerto Rican mother was stateside and had no way of telling him about the flight. We figured there was no way, even if we could locate him, that Abuelo would release him to a stranger. Our friend, Ricky Rodríguez, did find him, and while initially Abuelo refused, Ricky convinced him to let him get him to the plane before curfew fell. He succeeded, and we had him escorted to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, into the waiting arms of his mother.
Days later, we were notified about an animal sanctuary that had been destroyed, leaving one woman to care for 100 dogs and 50 cats. She hid from Maria in a partially built, abandoned house with no electricity, little food, and her only water in the 5-gallon buckets she lugged all day long from a nearby river for herself and the animals. We sent a construction crew and our amazing team who got half of the dogs off the island on a small prop plane. The balance will leave the island this week or will be moved to a new animal sanctuary we helped construct.
Water is scarce so we used relationships to purchase water locally that we could distribute directly. We got a few thousand cases of water, including non-perishable food, from two large restaurant distributors, Ballester Hermanos Inc. and Plaza Provision Co., and the owner of a large chain of fast food restaurants. We sent our team, including Jorge Kuilan, Ricky Rodríguez, and several other volunteers to Ciales in trucks and jeeps to deliver supplies to the town and the more remote areas. There they found an 80-year-old mother who just wanted to get a video message to her daughter that she was still alive.
Our next mission will be to Barranquitas this week with a growing group of volunteers assisted by local police and the mayor’s office, and we will continue until it no longer makes sense. We are not alone in our efforts, and many in the 20/22 community continue to help directly. Keith St. Clair took over evacuating people by plane and is much better at it. The Coscios coordinated flying out sick children on private jets. Others bought generators and food and are delivering them in the same guerrilla manner we are.
During this time, I called upon our membership to help financially. At press time, we will have raised over $1 million. We led the effort with a $100,000 match and had other members meet our match with their own. Our partner charities feed the homeless, house orphans, provide community centers for children and care for the elderly amongst other community-based work.
What does all of this work mean in the grand scheme of things? Very little, except that we are not going anywhere. Puerto Rico runs in our veins, and she is now a part of who we are and our future, regardless of how difficult the road ahead may be.