'Help is on the way'
A pair of Lake Oswego business owners have teamed up to organize a fundraising event this weekend to benefit Puerto Rico. After being hit twice in just two weeks by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, an estimated 90 percent of the island is still without power due to crippled infrastructure.
"It's a humanitarian crisis, but the proportions are apocalyptic," says co-organizer Elba Cox, "After the storm, it was bad. But it's getting progressively worse."
The event, called "Help Is On The Way Puerto Rico," is scheduled from noon-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15, at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. Cox and co-organizer Diane Grover say that while the primary goal is to raise money for Puerto Rico, they're determined to make sure that the fundraiser is a positive event that also celebrates the natural beauty of the island.
Cox was born and raised in Puerto Rico and says she's been getting firsthand reports of the devastation from numerous friends and family who are still there. She now lives in West Linn and operates a realty agency in Lake Oswego.
Grover is a Lake Oswego attorney who specializes in immigration law. A few days after Hurricane Maria swept across Puerto Rico, she and Cox began talking about how they could help.
"We knew we needed to organize something, instead of just trying to do one thing here and one thing there," Cox says. "We didn't have the logistics available to us to start collecting items (from individual donors), so the fastest way that we can collect donations is to do an event."
Cox and Grover say they began simply by reaching out to friends and business contacts to ask for help and donations. But the project quickly snowballed, with dozens of groups and individuals offering to support and participate in the event, including State Rep. Andrea Salinas, who was recently appointed to the House District 38 seat in the Oregon Legislature.
"Luckily, we have very good people in the community who wanted to donate their talent," Cox says, "so we have food, music, theater, great organizers who started getting gifts for a raffle and silent auction. It has started to come together as an amazing event."
The fundraiser is billed as "an afternoon of Latin food, music and camaraderie," and Cox says she plans to draw on photos and videos from her own family in Puerto Rico to give visitors a firsthand look at the conditions on the ground — as well as how things looked before the hurricanes.
"It's an event for the family, and a chance for those who do not know Puerto Rico to get to know what Puerto Rico is all about," she says. "How it was, and how it is right now. Things will get better, but it's going to take some time."
The immediate concerns in Puerto Rico are water and power, Cox says, but new challenges have already begun to emerge. The island's hot and humid conditions have been made worse because much of the foliage was ripped out, she says, and the lack of sanitation is already contributing to disease outbreaks. Puerto Rico's biggest economic drivers — the tourism, pharmaceutical and agriculture industries — have all been crippled, Grover adds.
Grover and Cox say their fundraising group has grown to include about eight core members. They've applied to register as a nonprofit with the State of Oregon, and they say they intend for Sunday's fundraiser to be just the first of many events.
Grover and Cox say their group will try to specialize for future events, focusing on collecting specific donations like clothing or medicine as the needs on the ground evolve. But for the moment, Cox says, the highest priority is simply aiding the groups already in Puerto Rico.
"We are Americans who are, right now, in need of help from other Americans," she says.
There wasn't time to establish the nonprofit for the first fundraiser, Grover says, so the money raised at the upcoming event will be going to One America Appeal, a hurricane relief effort created by former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
One America was initially created to help respond to the damage from Hurricane Harvey, but it has since been expanded to focus on relief for all of the areas impacted by hurricanes this year.
For Puerto Rico's recovery efforts, One America has begun funding Unidos por Puerto Rico, a volunteer initiative created by Puerto Rico First Lady Beatriz Rosello after Hurricane Irma. It seeks to work with corporate partners in Puerto Rico to help distribute assistance and aid.
Cox says she also wants to make sure people stay focused on the continued need for help throughout the island. Relief and restoration efforts are making rapid progress in the coastal capital of San Juan, but that can mask the harsh conditions that persist in the interior of the island, she says.
"We're getting help, but the need is astronomical," Cox says. "Right now, the whole mainland is giving a hand to American citizens in Puerto Rico. If we can do just a little bit, it will be a great impact, no matter how small it is."
IF YOU GO
What: Fundraiser for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico
Where: McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside St., Portland
When: Noon-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15
Admission: $25 for adults, $15 for children
Tickets: Purchase online at http://wwwhelpisonthewaypuertorico.com or at the Crystal Ballroom ticket office.