BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Queens residents are putting together efforts to assist Puerto Rico after the island was left in devastation following a visit by Hurricane Maria that resulted in severe flooding and mass power outages.
Community activist Martha Flores-Vazquez has joined forces with former Councilman Hiram Monserrate and Flushing’s St. George’s Episcopal Church to open two hurricane relief sites for those affected by the hurricane in Puerto Rico.
On Friday, Flores-Vazquez opened a two-floor site at 100-13 Astoria Blvd. in East Elmhurst that has been collecting water, batteries, flashlights, canned foods, medical supplies, diapers and non-perishable items to donate to residents of Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Virgin Islands.
Due to the massive destruction wrought by Maria in Puerto Rico, Flores-Vazquez also opened a smaller site at St. George’s Episcopal Church, located at 135-32 38th Ave. in Flushing.
“We have a big Latino community here,” said Father Wilfredo Benitez, who is Puerto Rican and concerned about his family members on the island. “The need in Puerto Rico is dire.”
Benitez said that the supplies could go a long way to help Puerto Ricans affected by the storm. Benitez, who is waiting to hear from his 80-year-old brother and sister-in-law, said that he is worried due to the devastating effects of the storm on his home island. He added that there is no time limit for donations to be made to St. George’s.
“We’re going to keep it going for as long as necessary,” he said. “The goal is to get these donations to who need it most at this point.”
The Elmhurst site will host “Rumba para Puerto Rico” every Saturday and Sunday directly in front of the site to provide music for people who are dropping off donations. Monserrate, who is Puerto Rican and has family members on the island, will host the event on Saturdays.
In 1990, Monserrate said that he paid a visit to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Hugo.
“I read and heard that Maria dwarfs anything Hugo measured [up] to,” said Monserrate. “From what I saw then and [am] hearing, this storm is much more devastating [and] was all the reason for me to help.”
Monserrate also pointed out that Dominicans have also been donating to the cause and that they make up the second largest group of people in Puerto Rico.
“A lot of the donations we receive are from the Dominicans in our community that have an attachment to Puerto Rico,” said Monserrate. “This has been a tremendous experience. It hasn’t even been a week since we’ve opened and we’re already hearing a lot of outpouring stories of how Queens and Puerto Rico are a melting pot in many ways.”
Flores-Vazquez, who is also a licensed psychologist, said that she will offer emotional and mental support for Queens residents whose families have been affected by the hurricane. She said that she is having a hard time coping with the situation.
“I’m strong when helping others—but when I’m talking about my own situation, I pause and cry because it’s hard,” Flores-Vazquez said.
The Elmhurst donation site is open on Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for drop-offs.
St. George’s Episcopal Church is taking donations at the parish’s main office on Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Flores-Vazquez said that anyone who needs to talk can call her directly at (718) 909-4634.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.