Puerto Ricans Pitch In to Help Island Hurricane Victims

PUERTO RICANS in the United States are quickly organizing efforts to help their island in the wake of hurricane Hugo's destruction. Commonwealth officials, based in New York - home to 1.5 million Puerto Ricans - are coordinating the relief effort. However, churches, artists, singers, hospitals, and individuals are all joining in the effort. They are raising money, food, and medical services.

``People are going to donate. Puerto Ricans will dig into their pockets,'' says the Rev. Ruben Perez of the Concerned Citizens Association.

New York Mayor Edward Koch sent New York City Council president Andrew Stein and Luis Miranda, the mayor's adviser on Hispanic affairs, to meet with Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernandez Col'on. In a plane donated by real estate mogul Donald Trump, Mr. Stein and Mr. Miranda brought clothes donated by Calvin Klein, the Gap, and Macy's; water donated by Perrier and Poland Springs; and more than $20,000 in cash to help Puerto Rico rebuild itself.

``New York City has the second largest Puerto Rican population after San Juan. Many New Yorkers have relatives living there. In assisting them, we will be assisting our neighbors as well,'' Mr. Stein says.

In addition to the Trump plane, New York Gov. Mario Cuomo sent two New York State National Guard planes carrying supplies ranging from 6-volt batteries to a 33-member rescue team of police personnel.

At the behest of Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx sent a team to provide medical support and seek out relatives of staff members. Hospital members have raised $20,000. ``We're a community hospital and have a large Hispanic population and many of our employees have families there,'' says Maria Zito, a hospital spokeswoman.

Puerto Rican performers are part of the fund-raising effort. ``When something awful happens to the mother you help her. We in Puerto Rican theater will always help,'' says singer Lidia Chac'on.

The Commonwealth of New York sponsored two simultaneous telethons last Sunday to run nationally on the Univision and Telemundo networks who are both donating their air time and personnel.

``After the telethons we will get a better idea of how much money we have. We are going to need a lot, because Puerto Rico is in awful shape,'' says Ruth Noem'i Col'on, a spokeswoman for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The Christian Benevolent Association, holding a press conference in the Bronx last week, decided that a marathon of Puerto Rican entertainment was the best way to get money and supplies for the victims of the hurricane. ``Puerto Ricans are famous for laughing in the face of tragedy. This is a way to come together,'' says New York Assemblyman Jose Serrano, who was part of the press conference.

The money and supplies raised by the Benevolent Association will go toward relief efforts on the small islands of Culebra and Vieques. The donated clothes, food, and other supplies will be in the hands of Frank Hernandez, president of La Flor de Mayo Moving and Shipping Company, who is also a co-sponsor of the marathon. Mr. Hernandez, who helped Colombia and Mexico in other natural disasters, explains that three 40-foot-trailers will be parked alongside the theater ready to go to New Jersey and then by steam ship to Puerto Rico.

``I feel that since we Puerto Ricans are present when there is a disaster in any of our sister Latin republics, everyone must put in their share to help, even if its only a 25 cent donation it will help,'' says New York state Sen. Olga A. M'endez (D). Help is coming from outside the Hispanic community as well. Anglo-Americans as well as Hispanic-Americans are responding from all over the country.

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