It’s been weeks since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, but the Forest Hills community is still coming together to help the ravaged island.
A number of local residents, organizations and businesses recently held hurricane relief drives to send basic necessities to the victims.
Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps outreach coordinator Felix Cabrera said the group decided to hold its own drive after a member, a volunteer with the Queens Zoo, told the committee about the zoo’s donation collection.
Through social media, Cabrera notified the community about the effort, and Cabrera and a partner drove around the neighborhood to pick up donations from residents.
The drive, which lasted for two weeks, included donations from various Forest Hills-based groups, clinics, churches and individuals.
“We had one member of the community that went to Costco’s and spent over $200 and had us meet him there to pick it up,” Cabrera said. “We received a lot support and contributions from the community.”
While FHVAC originally planned to coordinate with airlines to send the donations to Puerto Rico, the plans fell through, resulting in FHVAC seeking help from the FDNY.
Last Wednesday, FHVAC dropped off the donations at the FDNY Hispanic Society. The FDNY is working with a shipping company that stops by twice a day to pick up items, which are then sent to Puerto Rico via ships.
The company plans to continue sending ships to Puerto Rico until November, but may shorten or lengthen the deadline depending on demand.
Leftover items were donated to the Salvation Army. Food items that couldn’t go towards the hurricane relief efforts were saved by FHVAC for a later canned food drive that will be held this winter.
The organization is also planning a coat drive and trips to the soup kitchen as part of its upcoming service projects.
Though their hurricane relief drive went to the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, Cabrera wished the organization had the avenues and resources to help other stricken areas.
“Unfortunately, we’re a small organization with a small number of volunteers, and we saw an opportunity in Puerto Rico where people were willing to help and we just provided a bridge to do so,” Cabrera said. “If we could help in other ways, for Florida and Texas, we definitely would.
“We felt like this was such a dire situation, based on the devastation,” he added. “A lot of people reached out to us, asking how they could help out, so we wanted to facilitate it so we could give them a way to do the best they could.”
Body & Brain Forest Hills Yoga & Tai Chi served as a drop-off point in the community, and collected dozens of critically needed supplies. They dropped off the donations at Engine Company 316 in East Elmhurst.
“I believe that all people want to do good and help others, and if we as a community can make it easier for that action to be taken, even in our busy and stressful lives, that's when we can start to shift from a self-focused way of living towards recognizing our common humanity,” said manager Amy Long.
A yoga member, Frida Malakov, asked her four young children to each donate $5 from their small savings to purchase an item to donate. Throughout the process, the children began to understand what it meant to contribute and help those who are suffering.
When they dropped of their donation, Long noticed how happy the children were to show what they’ve personally donated.
“Instead of being divided by nationality, race, and culture, we can all connect as citizens of the Earth and heal many divides with taking conscientious action,” Long added.
While many of the relief drives have concluded, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz’s Hurricane Maria Relief Drive will run until Friday, October 27.
Those interested can donate items such as diapers, baby food, batteries, first aid supplies and feminine hygiene products at Koslowitz’s district office at 118-35 Queens Boulevard.
Veronica Pasha, a Women’s Health registered nurse at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center, was recently approved to join the New York-Presbyterian’s Disaster Relief team. While studying in undergrad, she did many missions throughout Central America.
While she is still unsure of when she’ll be able to head to Puerto Rico, she has set up a diaper drive at the hospital.
Pasha is collecting diapers as well as other newborn items such as suction bulbs, plastic thermometers and pacifiers. When she is sent to Puerto Rico, she will take the supplies to local medical facilities. Those interested in donating can visit the hospital or contact Pasha at email@example.com.
“When NYP sent out the email asking for volunteers, I didn't think twice to sign up,” Pasha said. “I love nursing, I love my job, but there is just something so warm and special in helping those during a vulnerable time.”