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Western Massachusetts community donates $100,000 toward Puerto Rico hurricane relief

SPRINGFIELD — After months of fundraisers and community events, 10 organizations in Puerto Rico will receive $100,000 in donations raised in Western Massachusetts.

The Western Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico coalition, which came together after Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September, announced Monday night that the money will be sent out to organizations immediately.

“When we all came together the first call to action was to do a collection of donations because people just wanted to give,” said Waleska Lugo-DeJesus, an executive committee member for the coalition. “We mobilized over 300 volunteers to collect, sort and transfer items to Puerto Rico.”

Lugo-DeJesus credited the mayors of Springfield, Holyoke and Westfield, who came together to open donation centers, mobilize city departments to help families arriving to the region from Puerto Rico. Representatives from service organizations in all three cities became part of the coalition as well.

The effort raised $180,000, with $80,000 going to the welcome centers in Springfield and Holyoke working with the hundreds of families that have arrived in the region since the hurricane. An additional $1,600 will go to the Family Resource Center in Springfield run by the Gandara Center.

The largest donation came from the tenants at Chestnut Towers, who raised $14,772 with the help of Related Companies, a New York City real estate company which manages the property.

“There was a lot of organizations small and big that put together fundraisers and events that made this a success,” said Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez.

Gomez and Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin listed the ten organizations that were selected after a vetting process. The following organizations will receive $10,000 each:

  • Taller Salud: Provides medical support for chronic patients and emotional support for their caregivers in Loiza, on the island’s northeastern coast.
  • Programa de Educacion Comunal de Entrega y Servicio:Provides relief and reconstruction efforts for homes devastated by Hurricane Maria.
  • Convoy of Hope: Funds will be used toward debris removal and structural repairs for those most impacted by the hurricane.
  • Sociedad Pro Hospital del Nino: Directs needs of children at the hospital.
  • Proyecto Matria Inc.: Payment of teachers and psychologists for Casa Solidaria Matria.
  • CDPEC, Inc. : Will provide funds for Mutual Aid Center of Caguas which is helping people in the region with food, construction materials, health equipment  and more.
  • National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference: To assist Puerto Rico chapter of the organization working to rebuild 3,000 churches on the island.
  • Brigada Solidaria del Oeste: The brigade is working with local organizations in boththe mountain and west regions of the island to provide materials, informational sessions and small loans to help get the residents back on their feet.
  • Para La Naturaleza: The funds will be used toward distributing 150 environmentally friendly home emergency kits, including a solar lantern, mosquito nets and portable water filtration devices.
  • Asociacion Recreativa Educativa y Comunal del Barrio Marinana Inc. will use the funds to launch a solar-powered community laundromat, a reading corner and coffee shop in an abandoned school that is not expected to have power for several more months.

The New North Citizens Council was the fiscal agent for the fund, which was opened at Freedom Credit Union.

“This is a community that rallied and came together as one,” said Edward Nunez, assistant vice president of commercial lending for Freedom Credit Union. “As Americans, and make no mistake, we are Americans, one of our greatest attributes and strengths is our resilience. When there is a time of need we come together and rally and that is what this community did for Puerto Rico, time and time again.”

Nelson Roman, executive director of Nueva Esperanza and an executive committee member of the coalition, said the public will be able to see just how much money was raised and where it was spent.

“We have been transparent in this process and when the checks are cut Freedom Credit Union will be making a bank statement available to the public showing every dollar that came into the account and where it went,” he said.

The account at Freedom Credit Union has now been closed and the coalition has voted to disband. Members are asking that any future donations be made directly to local organizations working with families in the region.

Springfield’s welcome centers are the New North Citizens Council and the Family Resource Center, through the Gandara Center. In Holyoke Enlace De Familias is the designated welcome center, but organizations including Nueva Esperanza and New Horizons Family Community Center, Inc. are also assisting families.

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