Bacardi delivers food, water and medical services to Loíza
Loíza, PUERTO RICO – Under the midday sun, the public square in the town of Loíza filled with life to the sound of loud music played over huge speakers. Families, mothers with children and elderly people gathered under white tents, each with a different sign: Area to charge cellphones, Games and Entertainment, Food. Only some lampposts lying on the ground and leafless trees evidenced the catastrophic hurricane that had passed through the island nearly a month ago.
Chef René Marichal (Courtesy)
The largest tent served as an improvised dining room. A long line of people waited for their turn to get a plate of pasta with chicken and vegetables and a bottle of water. The food trays, prepared by chef René Marichal, disappeared quickly and were immediately replaced by others; the wait for food and water lasted only minutes.
At another end of the square, MMM Healthcare had set up a mobile clinic. Even before the staff arrived, dozens of individuals waited patiently, sitting in rows of plastic chairs to register, have their vitals taken and then be referred to an internist, a specialist or to the pharmacy.
In yet another corner of the square, a clown distributed colorful balloon animals, swords and hats to children and some adults. There was an inflatable bounce house, which small kids, eager to play, lined up for. At a table, representatives of Head Start and the Department of Health spoke with mothers as they filled out documents while their children were having fun. Later on, a kid’s film would be projected on a giant screen in the middle of the plaza so children could unwind and their parents take a break.
That was the atmosphere last week during one of the caravans organized by rum manufacturer Bacardi as part of its “Barcadí Contigo” project.
Hilda Rodríguez, the distillery’s distribution manager, explained that the idea of the caravans came to be through the emergency “Stop and Go” centers that Bacardi had set up along with “Unidos por Puerto Rico” in San Juan and Cataño. Although many people came to the centers to pick up food and water, recharge their phones and spend some time entertaining themselves and letting their kids play and burn some energy, the company realized that many other places had the same needs. In particular, the need for drinking water.
“We decided to launch this initiative, ‘Bacardí Contigo,’ which consists of 10 caravans to 10 affected towns throughout the island to deliver three basic things. Water: We bring a water tanker with 22,000 liters or 6,000 gallons of water. Food: the amount of lunches we bring depends on the need of each town. Here in Loíza, we will serve 1,000 lunches. And medical services, because we understand that many doctors are not working, hospitals are saturated, so if we could bring a clinic here we could address these basic things and also provide medicines…,” Rodriguez told Caribbean Business.
In addition to Loíza, Bacardí has visited the municipalities of Morovis, Hatillo, Añasco and Mayagüez, and this week they are heading toward Orocovis, Humacao, Utuado, Ponce and Guayama. In each, they organize the event through the mayor’s office, identifying communities where there is greater need for water to send a water truck to the specific area. Loíza’s Piñones sector still has no drinking water, so the truck was sent directly to that community. If the need is more widespread, as was the case of Hatillo, the water is parked close to where the event will take place so people can fill containers and storage tanks.
Besides Marichal–who owns Avocado, Argento and Wok It–the food is prepared by such renowned chefs as José Juan Cuevas, executive chef of the Condado Vanderbilt Hotel; chef Ariel Rodríguez from Ariel restaurant in Miramar; Héctor Rosa of Soda Estudio; and Luis Miguel Díaz of the food truck Cosechas.
The aid includes the free MMM clinic with specialists from the insurer’s Vita Care clinics, which include pediatricians and doctors from the area who can follow up with patients. Social workers were on hand as well. In Loíza, they provided services to some 205 patients.
The residents of the municipality interviewed by Caribbean Business said that although many businesses remain closed and access to cash is limited, because the only bank and cooperative remain closed, they understand that the situation is stable and “flowing. Slow but it’s flowing,” said a lady waiting for her shift at the clinic.
Her words were echoed by several other people, adding that in the neighborhoods where the structures were made of wood, many lost everything and there is still need of help. The thing most requested was bottled water.
The municipality makes daily rounds to communities delivering supplies and bottled water, door-to-door, but Mayor Julia Nazario also pointed out that many times the water to be delivered daily from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and donations from private entities is not enough.
On the other hand, other services such as garbage collection are beginning to normalize and four of the municipality’s public schools are ready to teach “once the secretary of Education says so.” Two other schools continue to serve as shelters.
“In terms of the rest, it’s about making our people feel good every day. Activities like this are going to continue because we have to leave the sorrow and whining behind to enter new stages; lift people’s spirit and our self-esteem, which we had worked for so long since January to continue lifting,” the official said.