The first week of 2018 I spent in Puerto Rico, and I couldn't imagine a more constructive and impactful way to spend the beginning of the year. I volunteered with the two non profits, El Plato Caliente and World Central Kitchen #chefsforpuertorico along with 8 others of El Camino Travel. We worked alongside these two core groups of committed Puerto Ricans who have been working over three months straight making and distributing food to fellow residents of Puerto Rico who are doing everything they can to put their lives back together post hurricane Maria. I am humbled by the efforts that core group of locals has put forth, and am so thankful they allowed us to join them. We volunteered three days, and made a teeny tiny impact in the grand scheme of the work they're doing. We made over 6 thousand meals during that time. Our team chopping up hundreds of pounds of yuca, pork and onions and served up large quantities of Arroz con Habichuelas (Rice and Beans) and Arroz con Gandules (Rice with Peas).
While with World Central Kitchen, we worked at a commercial kitchen of the Ritz Carlton, the home of José Andrés' restaurant Mi Casa. Andrés is the founder of World Central Kitchen, established in 2010, and it is powered by chefs around the globe; their mission is to create smart solutions to fight hunger and poverty. They joined with local chefs to form #chefsforpuertorico post hurricane Maria. The production of meals in Puerto Rico is the largest disaster relief effort WCK has tackled, and was the most responsive and effective in getting food to the people directly after the hurricane hit. Read more about the efforts of WCK in Puerto Rico in the New York Times here.
On the Island of Vieques, we worked with the non profit El Plato Caliente, and small group of chefs and volunteers with the same mission: to feed the those in need post hurricane. While with them, we set up an outdoor kitchen, run on a generator at a closed restaurant right on the coast. This was a new location for El Plato Caliente, they were in San Juan before, but moved to Vieques where there was a greater demand for food assistance. This group formed in response to the need for meals post hurricane. They run on a much smaller budget by comparison to World Central Kitchen, but are just as committed to the cause.
There is still a ton of work to do, and I left Puerto Rico with a range of emotions. I felt more motivated than ever by the people I met, but also a sense of helplessness, due to the slow recovery. Despite how hard these people work, it is tiring- the return to a normal life is still far off. Relying on a generator is still the reality for many, after over three months without power. Those in this situation are all over: some city blocks in San Juan, but mostly in the more rural areas in the center of the island and Vieques. I worry for them, their physical and mental health. It is clear that the hurricane has severely impacted people's outlook on life, and there are some that don't see beyond the poor state of things now. See Newsweek for details about PR’s increased suicide rate.
So how can you help? I see three ways to support:
VACATION IN PUERTO RICO: This sounds weird to say go and have a good time, but really--just by being there, you are stimulating the island's economy, this choice is showing support. Although countless business have closed, Puerto Rico is still open for tourism. The beaches are stunning, and there are many many places to stay that have power. Puerto Ricans need our tourist dollars now more than ever
DONATE. Make your contribution to these two non profits here:
VOLUNTEER: This can be done but understand that as the needs will change, so will the potentials tasks at hand. Plus, these organizations don't have full time volunteer coordinators. Offer you assistance for a planned period of time. Be flexible.
I recommend reaching out to these non profits through their Facebook site if you're putting together a group of volunteers that would like to assist.