Holyoke team organizes care packages for Puerto Rico

  • Frank Martinez, executive director of social services nonprofit Enlace De Familias, works with others to get boxes ready to fill and ship donated items to those in need in Puerto Rico. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Left, Priscilla Rivera, owner of City Sport, Damaris Aponte, and Denise Salgado, bag donated items to get ready to box and ship to those in need in Puerto Rico. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Damaris Aponte, Denise Salgado, and Priscilla Rivera, owner of City Sport, bag donated items to get ready to box and ship to those in need in Puerto Rico. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Priscilla Rivera, left, owner of City Sports Bar, and Damaris Aponte bag donated items to get ready to box and ship to those in need in Puerto Rico. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Batteries bagged and ready to be packed into boxes to be shipped to those in need in Puerto Rico. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2022 2:06:27 PM
Modified: 9/21/2022 2:05:47 PM

HOLYOKE — A city business owner is leading the charge in bringing care packages to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Troops from the National Guard have rescued hundreds of people who were stranded after Hurricane Fiona struck Sunday, shutting down power and water to the majority of the Caribbean island. As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 80% of the U.S. territory was without power with no indication of when power would be restored, according to PowerOutage.US.

Locally, the city of Holyoke’s Community Emergency Response Team has been activated to help with relief efforts. The team is made of community organizations, city officials and volunteers, who are all dedicated to helping the community in the event of an emergency.

One member on the CERT team, Priscilla Rivera, has turned her business, City Sports Bar, into the headquarters of those efforts, coordinating efforts to fill and ship care packages to Puerto Rico as part of the “Boricua Care Package Project.”

On Monday afternoon, volunteers from organizations such as Holyoke social services nonprofit Enlace De Familias pitched in to fill boxes.

Donations have been coming in locally as well as from states like New York and New Jersey, said Rivera.

Having volunteered with the Boricua Care Package Project in 2017, following the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Maria, Rivera said she was familiar with the process of setting up a collection site and getting care packages to those in need.

The 2017 efforts were launched by Jossie Valentín, a former Holyoke city councilor and Holyoke Community College counselor, and her wife, Myriam Quiñones, the former senior special programs coordinator with Multicultural Academic Services at Holyoke Community College. The couple moved back to Puerto Rico earlier this year.

“We sent out about 200 boxes then and we know that the items got delivered to the people who needed them,” Rivera said. “These packages will be tracked and going straight into the hands of people in need.”

Her goal is to fill and ship 300 boxes to Puerto Rico. Each box costs $21.50 to ship to the island.

Volunteers will continue to gather and help build packages at City Sports Bar, 352 High St., from 3 to 8 p.m.

“Right now, we’re hearing that with no lights and water, there’s lots of mosquitoes, so we’re trying to get mosquito repellent and ointment to put in the kits, but that’s one item we’re struggling to find right now,” she said. “And we’re also in need of solar fans or power banks — anything solar, we’ll take it.”

Other items needed for the boxes include: small flashlights, matches, Ziploc bags (snack-, quart- and gallon-sized), toilet paper rolls, batteries (AA, AAA, C and D), water-purifying tablets, first aid kits, battery-operated mini fans and radios, canned spam, potted meat, Vienna sausages, beans, macaroni and cheese, feminine hygiene products, soap, and hand sanitizer.

Gift cards for Walmart, CVS or Walgreens are also accepted.

Clothing is not being accepted right now as the most urgent needs are being addressed first.

Knowing that folks living in the area have relatives living in Puerto Rico, Rivera set up a link so that people can send care packages directly to family via https://bit.ly/3LxE9wq.

The Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, which also is on the CERT team, is accepting monetary donations, according to Jordan Hart, executive director of the chamber.

“I think with an organization of our magnitude, we have to be a strong partner in the community,” said Hart.

The monetary donations should be directed to the Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, either by check or electronically.

Donations can be made via Venmo@GrowHolyoke. Checks can be mailed and made payable to GHCCF, Attn. Hurricane Fiona, 177 High St., Holyoke, MA 01040.

Cash will not be accepted.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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