By Melanie Medina
After Hurricane Fiona battered Puerto Rico Sept. 18, Long Island residents with ties to Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands are looking for ways to aid — yet again — in the recovery. Long Islanders are no strangers to the devastation that a hurricane can bring, and, they say, they are willing to help.
The Bay Shore-based nonprofit Jibaritos with Troops has been raising funds and gathering resources in recent weeks to give Puerto Ricans what they need to survive in the months ahead, collecting first aid kits, water bottles, feminine hygiene products and baby diapers every weekend at several locations, including in Bay Shore, Ronkonkoma and Hampton Bays.
U.S Army soldier Amee Hernandez, also known as La Jefa (The Leader) of Jibaritos with Troops, just returned from Puerto Rico after a weekend of distributing humanitarian relief around the island, she said. Together with El Jefe of Jibaritos, Jose Gonzalez, Hernandez devoted many hours to dispersing resources.
Founded in 2017 after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, Jibaritos with Troops focuses on helping “others in a time when they cannot help themselves,” Hernandez said, adding, “We want to put together a team that has that same exact passion.”
With Long Islanders’ help, Jibaritos with Troops sent over its first shipment of 172 wooden pallets of supplies to Puerto Rico and is preparing its next shipment. Supplies were collected through JWT’s “Island to Island United for Puerto Rico” drop-offs and are being distributed “mano a mano” (hand to hand), Hernandez said.
Amid ongoing speculation surrounding the U.S government’s lack of transparency with fund and resource distribution after Hurricanes Maria and Fiona, Jibaritos with Troops decided to visit in person to ensure that resources are distributed properly to families in need. “The people in charge tell us what to do, but they won’t do it themselves,” Gonzalez said.
The goal is to help residents of Puerto Rico like Ivan Saez, who has lived on the island more than 10 years and has received little to no help from the U.S. federal government following both hurricanes. Living in the hills of San Herman, Saez lamented that “Fiona slammed us worse than our experience with Maria.” Torrential rains caused massive flooding, wiping out homes, businesses and vehicles.
Even now, almost two weeks after Fiona blew through, many people still do not have running water and electricity. “Living on this island is like staying in a Third World country. The help is slow and sometimes non-existent,” Saez said. “It’s like we’ve been forgotten; it’s sad that a country so beautiful and with so many elderly people gets treated this way. But things can always be worse, so we push forward and hope for some sense of normalcy.”
Jibaritos with Troops officials understand the plight of Puerto Ricans. “Our fourth day there, we went up to a house in the mountains,” Gonzalez said. “We found a family of three with a 12-month-old baby, and no one had reached out to them to see if they needed help. Their roof had collapsed.”
“It was easy to help during Hurricane Maria; everywhere you went everyone needed help, too,” Gonzalez said. “Right now, you can be in an area that is completely destroyed, but drive 10 minutes and go out for lunch.”
Long Islanders have taken fundraising to the next level, according to the team at Jibaritos with Troops, going above and beyond in helping Puerto Rico in its time of need.
“It became an overwhelming support from the community, friends and family,” Hernandez said. “It didn’t matter your race, ethnicity or where you were from. We all came together.”