Dear Friends and Family,
It’s been one month since our trip to Puerto Rico, and we apologize we haven’t written sooner to thank each of you for your generosity that made the trip a success. We would like to share with you some of the miracles and experiences from the trip, as well as some pictures.
When we first started preparing to travel to Puerto Rico to help with relief efforts, we planned on only taking four suitcases of medical supplies. But as time went on, more and more doors opened, eventually making it possible for us to take down 22 large boxes full of medical supplies, but also freeze-dried food, diapers, wipes, formula, hygiene kits, blankets, batteries, gloves, masks, protective eye-wear, and various other needed items. We were so grateful to have our cousins Chad and Jackie Peterson join
us. Having their support, ideas, and influence made the trip even more successful. As the time for our trip approached, we still had yet to find somewhere to stay, transportation while on the island, and a way to ensure all our supplies made it through customs (we had heard that a lot of humanitarian supplies being sent to the island either were stolen or confiscated by airport security once it arrived to the island.)
Gratefully, the week before our departure, we connected with Millie Maldonado and the non-profit organization Wings of Hope for Puerto Rico. Millie is a Puerto Rican who returned to the island soon after the hurricane and had been working tirelessly on relief efforts ever since. She was able to provide us with an official letter approving entry of all our supplies into the island. She also had a driver and a mini-bus waiting for us at the airport when we arrived, and she graciously hosted us in her home during our three day trip.
Due to flight delays, we arrived about 10 hours later than we had hoped to, cutting our work time almost in half. It was a surreal experience flying over the once green and lush island, that now was bare and gray. As we flew over San Juan, about every other house had a blue tarp tied to the top, being used as a makeshift roof. Walking off the airplane and into the airport, the intense heat and humidity hit us like a wall, even though it was 6pm and far from the hottest time of the day. The airport lights were off, and of course so was the air conditioning, monitors, escalators, and conveyor belts. Our flight only had about 30 others arriving to the island, but the terminal sat completely full of Puerto
Ricans fanning themselves with paper fans hoping for some relief from the intense heat, and waiting to evacuate.
It was miraculous that all 22 of our boxes arrived without any problems. We’ve come to the conclusion that our flight delay was a blessing in disguise and prevented our supplies from being looked through
and possibly taken. People on the island couldn’t believe that nothing had been confiscated by airport security. We arrived safely to the Wings of Hope headquarters and delivered our luggage.
The next morning we arose early, loaded 3 cars full of medicine, food, water, diapers, wipes, formula, and hygiene kits and caravanned to the town of Guajataca. As we drove out of San Juan, it was sobering to see the hundreds of downed power lines. Huge piles of debris lined the road sides. Outside of gas stations, supermarkets, and banks were lines of hundreds of people waiting for the chance to get gas, food, and cash. Once we were close to the town, we had to wait almost an hour for a police escort to take us the last 30 mins there. The roads had just been cleared two days before, and were still very dangerous. Downed
trees and powerlines, through narrow, winding, washed out roads slowed our commute. But we were finally able to make it to the small mountain town of Guajataca. Since the roads had just been cleared, we were some of the first to arrive to offer aid to the town residents. It is difficult to put into words the extreme needs we saw. Many homes were completely destroyed. Some people had no food or water. Everything they owned was damaged or gone, and they were extremely grateful for the few things we were able to give them. Below are a few stories and pictures of families and people that we met.
This is Wilfredo. He was one of the first people we met as we drove up a winding, narrow mountain road to a small town near the reservoir Guajataca. Wilfredo had spent his morning helping a neighbor clear debris and water from their home, and was driving back to his home when he spotted us. He asked if I would be willing to check his blood pressure and glucose level, since he had a history of hypertension and was diabetic. He hadn’t been able to check his glucose in over 2 weeks because he had run out of test strips. I asked him then how he’d managed his insulin doses, and he explained that he’d just had to guess. What strongly impressed me about Wilfredo was his cheerful disposition. He was joking, laughing, even playfully flirting with me, as I continued my assessment. Up and down the street from where he sat, homes had been demolished by the Hurricane, trees were stripped bare and thrown-about like pick-up-sticks, people had lost everything, food and water were scarce; he had every excuse to be negative and ornery. Instead, he put a smile on his face and went to work. I offered him a hygiene kit and some food and water, which he accepted gratefully. I wish I could have given him more.
If I knew before what I know now, I would have taken more food with us. I refused to
believe that people could still be without food and clean drinking water 3 weeks out. It
could never be that bad. But I was wrong. Gratefully, this amazing cousin of mine
knew better, and reached out to Thrive Life and they donated 48 gallon sized
containers of freeze dried food for us to take, including shredded chicken, ground
beef, corn, beans, potatoes, apples, pineapple, and strawberries. I don’t think the
people there had ever seen anything like it! They were amazed when we told them
they just needed to add water and they would end up with a delicious and hearty
meal. This sweet lady loved the dried apples and strawberries Jackie offered for her
to taste. This particular grandma lived alone and was a little hesitant to come out of
her house when three cars full of strangers pulled up. But once she realized our good
intentions, she warmed up to us. Worried for her well being, we asked about her age
and health status. She gave us a big smile and replied, “Well, they tell me I’m 90. But
sometimes I don’t feel that old. So some days I tell people I’m 84, some times I tell
people I’m 86. It just depends on the day!” We all laughed with her at her witty
response. When we left, she gave Jackie and I a big hug and a kiss. Her tender
embrace and unique sense of humor reminded me so much of my own beloved Abuelita. Driving away from her house that afternoon and leaving her to struggle alone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
Thanks to many of our friends and family who donated, we were able to take down several boxes of diapers, wipes, and formula. As we drove through the towns, we kept an eye out for families with babies and toddlers who could use these items. At one particular home, we saw a mother with her young 5 month old infant. We stopped and began talking with her. Within just a few minutes, one of her friends who was 37 weeks pregnant with her third child came out of the house. A couple minutes later, another mother with her 1 and 3 year old. Within 10 minutes or so, a group of about 6 mothers and a combined total of 12+ small children were gathered outside. As we began telling them that we came with diapers, wipes, formula, hygiene kits, and food, you could instantly see the relief in these mother’s eyes. As a mother myself, I felt a sisterhood to these women, who just like me are trying their best to make a good life for their little ones. Circumstances beyond their control have made just keeping their babies dry and fed a struggle. I had a couple friends from home remind me to take dum-dum suckers with me so that I could had them out to kids. I’m so glad I did. This little guy in particular stole my heart.
I’ve never felt so under-qualified or unprepared as a nurse. My medical experience has always been in clean, organized, fully-staffed and fully-stocked situations. And I can say without a doubt, that what I saw wasn’t even close to the worst of it. As we entered this small, humble home I couldn’t believe how many people were sitting out front. At first, I thought it was a patio area, but then I realized it had once been a living room, the roof had just been blown off. A middle aged woman approached me and asked me if I would be willing to check on her 18
year-old son. He was deaf-mute, she explained. He had stepped on a nail a few days ago and they were able to get him treated, but she was worried about him because he didn’t seem well. He laid on a mattress on the floor, covered in sweat, and his eyes were bloodshot. It was hard to tell if he had a fever or if it was just the intense heat that made his forehead feel so warm. His blood pressure was through the roof, and he was able to communicate to me that he had a bad headache. He didn’t look good, and my instinct told me that he needed to be in a hospital, but that simply wasn’t an option. If you could see beyond the frame of this small photo, you would see that 3 families were currently living in that small home, a total of 14 people. Two of their homes had been completely destroyed by the hurricane, so they had all been living together for the past 3 weeks. This young man shown on the floor wasn’t the only one with special needs either. There were also elderly grandparents, an adult son with mental disabilities, and a 10 year old boy who couldn’t walk. No power to keep their food from going bad, no water to bath in, and a food supply that was quickly running out. The needs were so many, I didn’t even know where to start. One of the hardest parts about our experience was seeing the extreme needs, but being helpless to offer more relief.
As evening approached after our day of delivering food and supplies, we met up with a group of local doctors who had been assessing medical needs and providing treatment to people in the town of Guajataca. Just as we were ready to call it a
day and head back to San Juan, someone from the group happened to start up a conversation with this gentleman named Regalado, who was sitting on a worn plastic chair outside his front door. We were walking by his home back to our cars, in a bit of a hurry I might add, because we wanted to get out of the mountain roads before dark. It was apparent that Regalado lived alone, so we asked if there was anything we could do for him. He replied that he would be happy with anything, anything we could do to help him. A few from our group entered his house to assess
his needs while the rest of us waited outside. A few minutes later my sweet friend
Millie came out in tears. She reported to us that his living conditions were the worst
she had seen yet: no roof, a few inches of standing water on his floor, no food, no
water, it seemed at some point he had relied on supplemental oxygen, but the
oxygen tanks were empty and the tubing was molding. Of course, there was no
power or running water. Since his toilet was not working, he had instead used buckets to relieve himself, which sat full of feces and ready to overflow next to his bed. A pile of soiled depends as tall as me was stacked in the corner of what at one point was a usable bathroom. The only clean clothing he had left was the shorts he was wearing. Three weeks after the hurricane, and this was still his reality. Our group of about 20 went right to work. Men climbed on the roof and nailed down a tarp. Gloves and masks were donned, and his waste buckets and used depends were disposed of. The standing water was swept out of his home, and new clean sheets were placed on his bed. At this point, most of our food and supplies had already been distributed, but we were able to gather a few essentials to leave him with. It felt like we were deserting him as we drove away that evening. After all we could do, it wasn’t even close to enough. Prior to our trip, several
of our friends and family gave us generous monetary donations to use as we
saw fit. Before we left Puerto Rico, we left Millie with $1,000 and told her we’d
like it to be used for Regalado. Millie was soon able to have his home back up
to adequate living standards. Regalado now has somewhere dry and clean to
sleep again. He has food, water, and a soft chair to sit on. Volunteers from
Wings of Hope will continue to check in on him and make sure he is healthy and safe.
Meet Adalia Roman- Salvation Army Soldier. I met her at the San Juan airport, as we were waiting to board our flight back home. She and her husband, along with about 30 other elderly people, sat in wheel chairs by our gate, waiting to be evacuated off the island. It was a sobering sight to see these heart-sick Puerto Ricans leave their homes, children, grandchildren, and the island they loved so much, perhaps never to return again. Adalia was headed to New Jersey to stay with family because she needed surgery. A few hospitals are open and functioning on the island, but the problem comes after hospitalization. It is nearly impossible and extremely dangerous to recover in a home without access to clean water or power. Chatting with her and getting to know her story was one of my favorite parts of the trip. She spoke English well, and she told me
about her years of service for the Salvation Army. She was well experienced with post-natural disaster protocols, and had been very involved with Red Cross and FEMA throughout her career. She had lived in Puerto Rico all her life and been through many storms, but she explained that this was the worst she’d ever seen. She told me all about her children and grandchildren, her beautiful home and her banana farm where all the trees had been ripped from the ground due to the strong winds. She told me how her husband was an amazing musician and singer, and how they fell in love. As it came our time to board and I had to say goodbye, she pleaded with me to tell their story. “Tell people what is going on down here. Tell them that we need help, and that it’s not coming fast enough. Don’t let us be forgotten.”
Our flight left early Sunday morning, so we were unable to deliver in person the medical supplies that we had brought with us to the pediatric hospital. However, we left them in the capable hands of our friend Millie, and she was able to deliver them within the week.
We want to again express our deepest gratitude to each of you for your willingness to help and be involved with our trip to Puerto Rico. The island of Puerto Rico has a population of 3.4 million people. We estimated that our supplies hopefully helped just a few hundred of those people. Sometimes it seems like we didn’t even make a dent. But then we remind ourselves, that to the people we helped, if only for that day, they weren’t hungry, their babies had dry diapers and full tummies, they had the medicine they needed, and they felt the love and care from each of you who helped. May God bless and protect you always.
Stanton and Cristina Crane