Often a story of little consequence can grab the imagination and attention of the nation while a much bigger story passes by without notice. That’s the case right now as the NFL protests block out almost everything else including the admission by the Trump Administration that 21 states were targeted by hackers during last year’s election, the president’s new expanded travel ban and, most sadly, the devastating effect that Hurricane Maria had on the islands of the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico.
Maybe it’s hurricane fatigue. Maybe it’s the fact that most of us don’t really think of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a part of the United States. Maybe it’s just that the NFL is right in our living rooms while the people of Puerto Rico are a thousand miles away in the middle of the Caribbean.
Part of the problem may be the difficulty in reporting news from an island where the power grid has been knocked completely offline and may not be operational for six months. Think about that. An island of 3.6 million people, a territory of the United States, has been effectively moved back 100 years in time.
No electrical power in a tropical climate means no air conditioning and no refrigeration for food. Medical care is difficult without lights and power for medical equipment. The category four storm killed 30 people in the Caribbean, but many more may die in the aftermath of the storm from lack of food, water and medical care.
Without electric power, the island’s manufacturing and tourism sectors of the economy will also crash to a standstill. With factories idle and resorts closed, most of the island’s inhabitants will have no way to support themselves and their families.
The bottom line is that Puerto Rico and the other islands damaged by Hurricane Maria are going to need lots of help for a long time. With FEMA funds almost exhausted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the burden is going to fall on private charities funded by donations from companies and individuals like you and me.
If you are uncertain about what to donate or what charities are worthy of your donation, the FEMA website publishes guidelines for donations and the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) has an online form that helps to steer your donation to vetted organizations. NBC’s Chuck Todd has also identified several organizations that are top rated for their work in Puerto Rico.
FEMA recommends that you donate cash rather than supplies. My experience volunteering at a shelter in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey confirms that money is easier to deal with than supplies. Cash can purchase exactly what is needed at the time while donations of supplies may or may not contain what is needed at the time. (I think back to an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in which the station donated 3,000 blonde wigs to Guatemalan earthquake victims.) Supplies must be inventoried, sorted, stockpiled and shipped. That takes manpower, time and money.
Donations of supplies that aren’t needed right away incur costs for storage and take up space. Since the affected areas are islands, virtually everything needed to sustain the people who live there for the next six months will have to be brought in on ships or airplanes. It is much more efficient to purchase large quantities of relief supplies that are ready for shipment than to bundle donations together in a piecemeal fashion.
NVOAD also has a contact form for volunteers who would like to go to one of the areas affected by the hurricanes to help personally. With FEMA and other relief organizations stretched thin by three disasters in quick succession, additional volunteers will be badly needed.
Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands will be dependent on outside aid for survival for a very long time. The chain of disasters is taxing the reserves of relief agencies as well as wearing out relief workers. The citizens of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands need your help.
It’s time to come together to help our fellow Americans on the US islands of the Caribbean.