Bri Torres’ aunts, uncles and cousins are living with no electricity. They wait in line to get into the supermarket and, even then, are limited to purchasing a certain number of items. They haven’t taken hot showers in a long time, and have no toiletry items. To make a call, they have to walk a couple of miles to get into cell phone range.
The family members of the senior at Pius, who live in Utuado, Puerto Rico, aren’t the only ones living in those conditions on the island in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. But the Pius XI High School community is hoping to help them and others as much as they can.
The Pius community kicked off its annual Thanksgiving drive about a month ago to benefit Hurricane Maria victims in Utuado. Students and families are asked to donate items like summer clothes, batteries, water, toiletry items, non-perishable food items and any monetary support. Donations will be accepted until Dec. 21.
The donations will be sent to Utuado on a plane, where Torres’ family members will receive them Christmas Eve and give them to the local church.
Torres, along with two other seniors with family members in Puerto Rico, are in theology teacher Tom Chmielewski’s Christian ministry class this semester. One of the projects in the class is organizing a fundraiser for an organization that helps those in need. The three seniors proposed they do a big project to help out those in Puerto Rico.
“They really thought it would be a great thing to help,” Torres said of the class support.
Utuado is located in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico. After Hurricane Maria swept through the island, many residents were trapped with no way out. They received no federal or local aid, as pilots had trouble landing anywhere near the town. Torres said because the town hasn’t received any aid, this project is important.
“(Puerto Rico) is part of the United States,” Torres said. “It’s not like Texas and Florida where you can drive there. It takes so much extra work to get there. It’s important to recognize the small places that do need help, because there’s so much destruction on the island.”
At an all-school assembly Nov. 16, Yuseff Morales, a Red Cross Search and Rescue worker who is a family-friend of the Torres family, spoke at Pius after he spent a month in Puerto Rico. He told a story about having his refillable water bottle out and drinking from it, while local residents asked him for a sip. He returned home, thankful he could turn on his lights and faucet.
“When I got home guys, I was in my bathroom just switching the lights on and off,” he said at the assembly. “Turning my water faucet on. Just being thankful.”
He told students the conditions were worse than the pictures portrayed in the media after the hurricane hit.
“This is a big things you guys are doing, and it helps a lot,” he said. “I know you don’t see it much in the media anymore, but there are still a lot of people suffering.”
Chmielewski said this has been a learning opportunity for many students and in the weeks that followed the assembly, the school has raised awareness and held fundraisers to add to the amount that will be sent overseas.
Torres said the drive has gone well, and they’ve been receiving so many supplies those in Utuado will appreciate.
“People really seem to care and really want to help,” she said. “It’s more than we could have ever asked for.”