Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico over eight months ago, is still causing massive issues for the island. The U.S. government has overall demonstrated a massive lack of support through FEMA and other aid institutions. The hurricane left over $90M in damage, but only a small percentage is being allotted to the country from FEMA.
These blackouts and lack of electricity have been plaguing the island since the Category 4 hurricane practically wiped out its already-fragile power grid. The hurricane could be the most destructive Atlantic storm on record. Research by the Climate Impact Lab suggests that no larger area has been hit so comprehensively anywhere in the world in the past 60 years.
Many citizens believe that the U.S. government is severely neglecting Puerto Ricans and their wellbeing by not providing aid, including San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. The mayor has been in the middle of a political shootout between her and President Donald Trump after her criticism of the aid from FEMA and the Trump administration.
In response to this, Trump tweeted his own criticism, calling her and others who felt underwhelmed by the amount of government assistance “[p]olitically motivated ingrates.”
While this battle for justice progresses, citizens like Maria Laboy are taking matters into their own hands to help rebuild their communities. Even without electricity, Laboy and her neighbors set out a massive effort to feed hundreds of people in her Yabucoa valley community.
After receiving solar panels from a grassroots organization called Centros de Apoyo Mutuo, the neighbors began cooking mass amounts of food, sometimes feeding around 500 people. The unpaid group sometimes even uses their own money to buy ingredients and relies almost completely on donations.
“You have to take the bull by the horns,” Laboy said. “If you don’t do that, you are screwed.”
The group has no intentions of stopping the group meals and have both a well for water and have begun farming. It’s motivated and compassionate individuals like this that are slowly bringing life and hope back into Puerto Rico following this devastation, but with hurricane season quickly approaching, fears of even more disaster run high.
Power 4 Puerto Rico, a coalition comprised of multiple nonprofits and advocacy groups, warned the federal government on Tuesday about concerns that “much of the island’s existing challenges after Hurricane Maria will repeat themselves in the event of another hurricane.”
Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director at the Center for Popular Democracy and a part of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition, has also criticized the U.S. government, stating that “[t]here is a crisis of democracy. The federal government is acting as if the people of Puerto Rico are not constituents.”
This idea has been repeated many times in regards to Puerto Rico, but citizens like Laboy are not sitting around waiting for the government to step up and fix the slew of issues that the island still faces. Instead, her neighbors will continue to feed their community and work toward a larger change.
Laboy also thinks it’s extremely important to bring the community together in social settings like the group meals provide.
“If we were in the house we would be depressed, sick and who knows maybe even try to kill yourselves, because a lot of people are doing that,” Laboy said.
Laboy and her neighbors are accepting donations via PayPal.
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