On Puerto Rico, and Neighbors Helping Neighbors

I’m going to be honest. Since last November, I’ve been trying to ride out this current administration like I’d ride out a 5-year old’s temper tantrum. Calmly, patiently waiting. Maybe even lock myself in the bathroom until it’s over. I honestly didn’t think it would last this long. But holy Dinah! What in the world?! I haven’t spoken out about it much, but I want in no way for anyone to assume that my silence is acceptance of what has been going on in this country. (I actually think that there’s a lot of “rising up” going on here, but there’s also a whole bunch of horsecrappery.)

I am Christian. And I attend a non-denominational church that could be described as evangelical. I know, I know. That’s a naughty word in many circles. But we’re pretty much just a group of people who love Jesus. And we happen to think that the world would be a better place if more people became more like Him. The word “evangelical” simply means “the good news” and if you’ve ever read the gospels, you’ll know that Jesus is just the best. But I’d actually love to stop putting Christians (and people in general) into boxes, so I like to call myself a Christ follower, even though I can often be found gimping behind (flawed, imperfect, in need of a Savior). I say this because 80% of evangelicals voted for Trump, and it bugs me. I’ll never understand it. I’m not going to put my energy there anymore. But in no way does he represent the Jesus I know. And in no way does he stand for the things that Jesus cared about. Period. End of story.

But this is not a political post, it is a post about humanity. And as I’ve watched the situation in Puerto Rico unfolding (because listening is the first step), I see an administration that has been slow to act. I see the mayor of San Juan begging for help. I see an island, 90% destroyed – a humanitarian crisis. I see Puerto Rican Americans who have still not heard from their loved ones. I see a US territory that has been set back 20-30 years because of the damage that Hurricane Maria caused.  And I wonder, if these folks weren’t POC, would it take this long to get them the help they need? (I think I know the answer.)

puerto-rico

Here’s one truth about me: I have a fire in my belly that can cause me to lead, speak, advocate and serve. And it is also the same fire that can burn me to the ground in discouragement and despair by avoiding and complacency and numbing out. If we’re honest, we all do it. In these times, I find for me? It’s best if I listen and then do. What are my “next steps?” How can I help in the most responsible, sustainable way?

So I’ve been listening to people in the Puerto Rican community, and here’s what I’ve learned:

In general:

#1. Wait. I know we’re a generous bunch and we all want to help. I saw millions of dollars pour in for Houston and Florida, and I’m hopeful we’ll do the same for Puerto Rico. We’re also anxious to give right away. It makes us feel helpful. But we need to wait to hear from people who are on the ground who can identify what the true needs are.

#2. Think carefully about how and when you give. Ask questions like, “How much goes toward victim relief vs. overhead?” Ideally, you want 100% of your dollars to go towards relief. If you can find a match system where your gift is doubled, even better! You want to be sure that your money goes where you want it to go (often times this is not the case).

Specifically to Puerto Rico…

#1. If you have Puerto Rican friends, ask how their loved ones are doing. There are still many people who have not been able to communicate with their family on the island.

#2. If you have Puerto Rican friends with family on island, support direct giving. I’ve learned that the most efficient way to give would be through mailing directly to specific families. The destruction is so massive that the government doesn’t really know how to respond, even if they say they do. Relief will come at the grassroots level and this will be neighbor helping neighbor. (I have a direct giving opportunity with a friend that I trust – if anyone is looking for an opportunity to give, you can contact me.)

#3. Our schools will need support. School districts in our state are preparing to receive students from Puerto Rico in the next few weeks. One particular school will be assembling care packages filled with basic toiletry needs for these kids. (If anyone is interested in this giving opportunity, you can contact me as well.)

#3b. We know our school leaders desperately want to meet the needs of our kids. And with an already strapped budget, they will need our help in advocating for the proper resources. This is the time to contact your local school district to see how you can help. Volunteer somehow? Become a host family? Start a winter clothing drive? Create a welcome center? Are you an ESL teacher or a social worker? This is the time to think outside the box.

We have had three major hurricanes here in the US this season, but this is not the time for giving fatigue. The Puerto Rican people need us and Puerto Rican relief should be on our hearts for months and years to come. And as my friend Nelba says, “With crisis comes opportunity. Let’s use this opportunity to show the love of Christ.”

Here are some other ways to give. Though they have been recommended to me, please verify before you give.

Direct Relief 
Students with Puerto Rico
Move On

Please chime in with other helpful thoughts and ideas.