Help for Needy in Puerto Rico Pursued in Local Communities

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by Robert Kimmel –

Residents of hurricane battered Puerto Rico are benefitting from a large amount of aid provided by our rivertowns. Contributions of needed goods and cash have been facilitated by organizations, institutions, businesses, houses of worship, committed individuals, and the county and villages.

“There has been an overwhelmingly supportive response,” said Natalie Coriano of Westchester’s Department of Social Services, who is overseeing the county’s ‘Puerto Rico Relief Initiative.’ “It has been very heartening to know that there have been tremendous efforts,” she added.

Phelps Hospital President & CEO Daniel Blum surrounded by volunteers at the TaSH Farmers Market where donations were accepted.
—Photo by: Sunny Mclean

Those county efforts were to conclude by the end of this month; however, Coriano said that the collections would be extended, particularly for toys and other goods for Puerto Rican children during the coming holidays.

Dozens of volunteers from the Department of Social Services are participating in the aid project. Collection bins for items ranging from baby formula, blankets, bottled water, garbage bags, laundry detergent, and first aid kits, to mosquito repellent, towels, work gloves, and much more are set up at seven county offices whose addresses are listed on the county’s website or at this newspaper’s site: Cash donations, as well, can be facilitated on the websites.

The Department of Social Services will also pick up collected goods if contributing sponsors have no way of getting them to the designated locations. The county has partnered with The Mariano Rivera Foundation to package the donated items for shipping to Puerto Rico.

Phelps Memorial Hospital responded to the Puerto Rican crisis by setting up collection booths for donations at three farmers markets: the TaSH Market in Patriot’s Park, as well as the markets in Chappaqua and Pleasantville and places on the hospital grounds. Overall, it gathered more than 13,000 pounds of supplies for the devastated island. Other Northwell Health facilities pursued their own collections.

“It was amazing, fantastic,” Tammy Abraham said in describing the amount of designated items donated at the TaSH Farmers Market. Abraham, Co-President of Rivertown Village Green, the community organization that runs TaSH, said donors coming into the market “filled up huge containers several times throughout the day.” TaSH had promoted the collection with its newsletter and flyers. “We are so grateful to our partners at Phelps for organizing this effort and making the collection possible,” Abraham said.

Tarrytown’s EMS provided what was described as “tons of items,” including cases of bottled water. Among the donors contributing directly to the hospital was the nursing home and rehabilitation facility, Tarrytown Hall Care Center, providing what it called a “care package” filled with baby diapers, wipes and other items.

An entire large van was filled with donations for Puerto Rico and brought to Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown by its members, Children’s Garden Center families, and the JCC of Westchester, according to Stessa Peers, who directs Youth Engagement at the Temple. Its Teen Youth Group, ZEETY, and its Tikkum Olam Committee, led by Melissa Baer, co-sponsored the effort. Peers said the van was loaded completely in “just a few days with items such as diapers, baby wipes and feminine products as well as batteries, flashlights, food and water. We are still receiving goods, and have begun to see donations of food for animals as well.

Rock of Salvation Church in Sleepy Hollow joined up with the Spanish Eastern District Council of The Assemblies of God with its project “to help collect items for the people in Puerto Rico who were devastated by Hurricane Maria.” Among the items it gathered were canned goods, blankets, water, underclothing, diapers, soap, laundry detergent, batteries and tooth brushes.

Diapers, 10,000 in number, were the contribution to the county’s Hurricane Relief by the Junior League of Westchester. Members were joined by County Executive Rob Astorino to pack them for delivery to a children’s hospital on the island by the AFYA Foundation, a Yonkers-based non-profit. “It will go a long way towards keeping babies healthy,” said Astorino. “Our hope is to give the babies more comfort and the caregivers one less worry during their time of need,” explained Alyse Streicher, President of the JLCW.

Committed individuals also played important roles in contributing to Puerto Ricans in need of help.  Lorraine Tamburrino, an Irvington resident, who was born in Puerto Rico, directed her efforts to help provide drinkable water to the island. She ran a campaign that, “has sent over 20 units of water purifying equipment to the island’s children’s and domestic survivor shelters,” she said. “That has provided access to drinking water for over 5,000 individuals.”

Tamburrino is also adding other needed supplies to her pursuit. Within 27 days since beginning her drive, 61 people had helped her raise $4,180. toward her goal of $5,000. She lauded the “Irvington residents who have been instrumental in helping me with donations and sharing my campaign.”

A bake sale in Irvington lasting just over four hours added more than $600 to a campaign initiated by a former village resident, John Michael McArthur IV, who wanted to assist a relative on the island. McArthur said his aunt, Velia Ortiz, “lost everything.” Overall, McArthur’s campaign raised $3,165 in the first 16 days of his efforts. The bake sale was a project by Melody M Eisenlau, of Irvington, a former nurse practitioner, who said she was not a baker, but, had asked herself, “What could I do to actually help?”

Eisenlau baked for two days, and assisted by friends, set up a stand in front of Antonia’s Pizzeria. “I was amazed at the outpouring of support from our community,” said Eisenlau. The pizzeria also contributed one dollar for every large pie ordered during the bake sale. Even when they didn’t buy her baked goods, “People would just come up and give me $20,” Eisenlau noted.

With family in Puerto Rico, Noemi Ledesma Flores wanted to reach out for help. “I felt I had to do something,” the Sleepy Hollow resident explained. She got the word out “by posting flyers, word of mouth, and the village also announced it at a board meeting.” The Reverend Sykes Park was the collection point for donated items which included bottled water, first aid items, diapers, formula, and both canned and non-perishable food items.

“The response was good,” Flores stated. Donated cash “was enough to cover transportation and a filled 16-foot long U-Haul truck rental.” In addition to providing goods, “Sleepy Hollow sent a village employee to drive a village truck that helped us transport the goods to the EMS station in New York City,” Flores said. “The village was very cooperative.”

Christian Roberts, who is employed at Grape Expectations on Broadway in Tarrytown, felt he had to help the needy in Puerto Rico. With owner John G. Sarofeen’s approval and cooperation, Roberts organized a project to collect contributed goods at the shop by promoting the effort through the business’s newsletter, Facebook and emails. Clothes, food, and diapers were among the items collected. Roberts, a Peekskill resident, hauled the goods to a shipping point from which they would eventually be taken by UPS for shipping to the island.

When Astorino announced Westchester’s plans to help Puerto Rico, he noted that the county is “home to 44,000 Americans of Puerto Rican heritage. We are all one community here in Westchester,” he said, “and my hope and prayer is that we can make a meaningful contribution to the people and communities most in need.”

Through the efforts reported, and many others, it appears those hopes have been met.

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