Pictured above is the Gándara team with volunteers from Carlos Albizu Universidad. Fourth from left is Corinne Dumont, communications and development associate at Gándara Center. Fourth from right is former Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, and at right is Jade Rivera-McFarlin, Gándara Center’s director of marketing and development.

In 2017, after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Gándara Center mobilized to help refugees who arrived in the Springfield area. When disaster hit on the island this time—a series of devastating earthquakes this past January—Gándara employees collected emergency supplies in a statewide relief drive and brought them to Puerto Rico last month.

It was an incredible journey into the heart of the earthquake-torn areas in the island’s southwest. “The people were so grateful,” said Jade Rivera-McFarlin, Gándara Center’s director of marketing and development. “They were saying ‘thank you’ to everybody in Massachusetts and western Massachusetts. There are many people in Puerto Rico have strong ties western Massachusetts—they have family and friends in Springfield, Holyoke, and Chicopee.” Assisting Rivera-McFarlin on the January 27-31 trip were Corinne Dumont, communications and development associate at the agency, and former Gándara Center Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou.

“The support back home was overwhelming,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “Emergency donations with necessities for our ‘backpack survival kits’—essentials like soap, hand sanitizer, first aid kits, and baby wipes—have even come in from faculty, staff, and students from public and private Springfield Schools.”

The airline JetBlue sponsored Gándara’s effort by flying 30 boxes of supplies the agency collected. Gándara’s volunteers collected another 18 boxes it had mailed to San Juan, along with 10 boxes in Ponce. The volunteers teamed up with students from Carlos Albizu Universidad and traveled to the southwest part of the island—eventually up into the Mountains of Yauco, where families displaced by the earthquakes lived in encampment of 20-30 people. Their first stop was in Guánica at a makeshift camp at Pista Athlética Heriburto Cruz.

“It was a humbling experience to see the damage to the homes—and visiting the people in the mountains, who were so positive and thankful,” said Dumont. “I showed one girl one of the little notes of encouragement that were written by schoolchildren in Springfield and she was overcome with emotion.”

A father the volunteers met in Yauco told the volunteers he had just invested $35,000 to renovate his home — which is now completely gone. “Other members—over 20—of his extended family said their homes were unsafe to live in after the earthquakes, and that is the reason they’re all living together in a tent meant to sleep eight,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “We delivered first aid items, food, toiletries, tents, and more.”

Also helping the cause was more than $3,000 in monetary donations Gándara has collected so far, showing just how quickly—and how enthusiastically—people can rally around a humanitarian cause.

At present, Gándara Center is only accepting monetary donations for Puerto Rico. Please make checks payable to Gándara Center, Memo: 2020 Help for P.R. You can also donate online here. Select: “Apply my donation to: 2020 Aid for Puerto Rico Earthquake Victims.”

“We listened to some incredible stories from the people affected by this earthquake, and our communications team at Gándara will be sharing these stories on social media,” said Rivera-McFarlin. “So stay tuned!”