GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - It's been nearly a month since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, causing widespread devastation. The death toll now stands at 48. And, thousands of survivors are still suffering while recovery efforts move very slowly.
Many of those survivors are having to deal with deplorable living conditions. Officials and aid workers on the ground are giving reports of raw sewage flowing into rivers and reservoirs; toxic waste being taken directly to overflowing landfills, instead of being diverted to appropriate disposal sites; and dangerous mold is growing inside of homes. All of this is happening while 85-percent of the island is still without electricity. The hurricane made landfall on Sept. 20 and wiped out the island's electrical grid.
"These people are desperate and these are my families. I feel compelled to help," said Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal. "So many of our families and employees have relatives there. At about three o'clock in the morning I was praying and saying 'what can I do?' So, I got a team together.”
That team is spearheading a donation-based relief effort to send much needed supplies to Puerto Rico. GRPS is partnering with the City of Grand Rapids to collect items such as bottled water, personal hygiene items, canned goods, batteries and battery powered, solar cell phone chargers and more.
"And, we are providing mosquito repellant. The bugs are horrible. They need medicine. They need pampers and baby wipes as well as disinfectant wipes. And, you know, toothpaste. Things that we take for granted," said Weatherall Neal. "So, I'm asking people when you go to the store just pick up an extra."
She says they are also accepting monetary donations, no amount is too small. They will use the funds to shop for items needed but not donated.
"The other thing is, even children, if it is ten cents, 25 cents or even a dollar. Take that to school and your teachers will shop for you," she said. "We all have our talents and treasures and we need to share. It is the right thing to do. It really is about teaching children that you owe the next person. It is reach one, teach one."
However, Weatherall Neal hopes to reach much more than one person. The district will ship the supplies to the island with the help of the Ann Arbor branch of Puerto Rico Rises. The donation effort begins Monday, October 16th and runs through Thursday, October 19th. Donations are being accepted at all GRPS schools and at the Franklin Campus, Administration Building. That is located at 1331 Franklin SE in Grand Rapids.
Additional information is available by calling the GRPS Communications Office at 616-819-2149.
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