Lehigh Valley organizations seek to help struggling Puerto Rico
“The Lehigh Valley has shown time and time again that we take care of our own,” said Allentown Councilman Julio Guridy speaking Nov. 21 at a rally in Fountain Hill asking for money to help area charitable organizations to meet the challenges of providing help to the refugees from Puerto Rico fleeing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria.
“I’m not too proud to beg,” said Guirdy, who was born in Dominican Republic. “I beg us all to consider how lucky we are to be spared the devastation and who have the resources to help. If you can afford to $5 or $500 or even $5,000, we need that contribution today.”
Guridy teamed with Bethlehem City Councilwoman Olga Negron to bring the message to the public — the need now is for cash to deal with the crises.
“This is personal,” said Negron who was there with her recently-arrived elderly and ailing parents who found housing at the Lehigh County Housing Authority’s apartments on Seneca Street in Fountain Hill.
“I am fortunate that I could get my mother and father here without a lot of assistance, but hundreds of others who have relocated to the region are not so fortunate.”
Highlighting the crises, Mary Colon, interim executive director of Hispanic Center in South Bethlehem said, “We are a very small agency that struggles to meet the need in the best of times. These are not the best of times.”
Colon said people need money for security deposits and advance rent.
Lucy DeLabar, executive director of Casa Guadalupe of Allentown, said her agency has worked with more than 60 Puerto Rican refugee families; she said more arrive every day. DeLabar said she has too few resources to assist those who have already arrived, much less the many more expected in the weeks and months ahead.”
DeLabar said the shelters are full, apartments are unaffordable, and hotels and motels are unaffordable. These charitable agencies need money for food, clothes and other basic necessities according to DeLabar.
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley Vice President Marc Rittle said in-kind contributions such as coats are helpful, but that the most valuable resource is is money and gift cards.
The small meeting room was crowded with news reporters and photographers; also there were representatives of several charitable agencies and school districts. Among the attendees were two recently arriving Puerto Rican women, Carmen Inostroza and Yamilka Santiago. Also attending was Elizabeth Martinez of the Allentown School District who asked Alan Jennings, executive director of CACLV, “Is FEMA is helping with housing in this situation?”
Jennings said three states have been declared host states by FEMA, but that Pennsylvania is not one of them. “We are working to join the list of host states,” said Jennings. “We need to get FEMA to recognize Pennsylvania as a host state.”
Red Cross representative Mar Torres said her agency is doing case monitoring on the situation. “We are helping people with medical needs such as glasses, wheelchairs, and medicine such as insulin,” said Torres.
Allentown school board member Elizabeth Martinez, who is also a legislative assistant for Pennsylvania Representative Peter G. Schweyer, said approximately 250 students displaced from Puerto Rico have been admitted to Allentown School District. She said Puerto Rican refugees have all be coming to Schweyer’s office seeking help.
Donors can send tax deductible checks payable to “Estamos Listos” to Community Action committee of the Lehigh Valley. CACLV”s address is 1337 east Fifth Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015. Donors can also give through CACLV’s website www. caclv.org.