Sunset Park has stepped up in a big way to aid both Puerto Rico and Mexico in a great time of need.
Following Hurricane Maria — the category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 20 and which left the island flooded, without power, and with limited water and resources — as well as the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico City and other portions of the country just a day earlier, resulting in over 300 deaths, several local organizations sprung into action to form a massive relief effort.
On Saturday, September 23, El Grito de Sunset Park held an Earthquake Hurricane Relief effort at 4906 Fourth Avenue with the help of Assemblymember Felix Ortiz, the 72nd Precinct and others. Hundreds of local volunteers showed up to collect massive amounts of donations.
Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, was amazed at how successful the relief effort was, although it was announced with short notice. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “Many of us here, myself included, had to sit back and take it in. We saw the best of humanity in Sunset Park. Everyone is pitching in and even people that are poor and going through rough times came out here and gave the little that they can. The effort is so great, it’s really remarkable. I’m just overwhelmed with emotion.”
In fact, the success was so great that extra space was needed to store items. “We have collected so much stuff, the location we had filled up numerous times,” Flores explained. “We created a chain to Saint Andrew’s Church across the street where the pastor opened his doors and we filled up the church.”
The Muslim Community Center of Sunset Park, 5224 Third Avenue, also collected donations.
During the day, music was performed to show Puerto Rican and Mexican pride. “The energy is high and there’s fire and those drums came out and people played Bomba y Plena,” Flores said. “There were folks on the streets singing karaoke. This is how we come together. That gives us strength. It rose up the energy for a neighborhood that needs it. It’s been a hard week for us not having answers, and fearing the worst thing that could happen.”
He was also thankful for the 72nd Precinct that donated time and resources to the cause. “It’s remarkable even when you saw the cops coming,” Flores said. “I had to put my politics to the side. Our community and people come first and we’re going to have time to debate that stuff later on.”
According to Flores, what are most needed are medical supplies, boxes and big rolls of shrink wrap. “We are working with community organizations on the ground,” he said. “We are going to make sure we deliver the supplies to the different spots of the island.”
The group, along with Ortiz and others, is now in the process of organizing the supplies to make sure they land safely in both Puerto Rico and Mexico.
According to Ortiz, the container required to ship materials to Puerto Rico has arrived, and is expected to ship on Sunday, October 1.
Adding to what has been collected in Sunset Park, Assemblymember and mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis will be contributing supplies collected at both her Staten Island and Brooklyn offices, including flashlights, batteries, toiletries, first aid materials, school supplies and food.
Because of the outpouring of support, the donation center at 4906 Fourth Avenue will remain open to continue receiving supplies from 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
“We need to stay active and this is a way we can organize ourselves to make sure that our folks, our families back home don’t fall through the cracks and get ignored,” said Flores of Puerto Rico. “We are in fear that it’s what’s happening. There are towns where that haven’t had communication. There are towns where they haven’t heard from the mayors. It’s so extreme that you wouldn’t believe that could happen in a place that is U.S. territory.”
On the same day as the El Grito drive, Mayor Bill de Blasio was at Engine 201/Ladder 114, 5113 Fourth Avenue, to encourage people to donate. “Now it’s time for us to step up for an island that’s done so much for all of us and for people who need us more than ever,” he said.
“Before Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was already hurting. Puerto Rico had already gotten the short end of the stick from our federal government,” he said. “There was a health care crisis, and a financial crisis before Hurricane Maria. Now, Puerto Rico is seeing a challenge like nothing in its history. So everybody in Washington better get real about the fact that there it is no longer any time to hesitate. It’s time to help Puerto Rico with everything we have as a nation to help Puerto Rico.”