On the morning of Wednesday, September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, devastating the island and plunging all of its 3.4 million residents into a desperate humanitarian crisis. Hurricane Maria, the worst storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years, arrived two short weeks after Hurricane Irma passed just north of the island, leaving more than a million people without power.
Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) awarded a US$100,000 grant to the Lions of Multiple District 51 to support disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
With Maria bearing down on Puerto Rico, a number of thoughts were on Lion Miriam Vázquez’s mind. If Maria proved to be as powerful as predicted, she knew there would be some challenges ahead. Working feverishly, she needed to work on keeping the clinic’s supply of donated corneas at a required temperature, stock up on dry goods, water, batteries, and storm-proofing her home; all while thinking about her daughter who was eight months pregnant.
After the storm
When the sun came up the morning after, it was clear that Hurricane Maria had forever changed Puerto Rico. District Governor Felíx Camacho Ayala was awestruck by the fire-scorched look of his beloved native land. “Everything seemed dead,” he says. Mornings that had once echoed with birdsong were now cathedral quiet. At night, the chirping chorus of coqui frogs, an emblem of Puerto Rico, was absent. Two days later, Camacho received a call from Vázquez to learn more about how to mobilize funds from Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF).
Emergency grant funds arrived from LCIF, so Vázquez jumped into action calling Puerto Rico’s three Lions clubs district governors – Ayala in the east, Emilio Colón Rodríguez in the central mountains, and Cristino Hernández on the west coast — to organize the shipment of supplies for regional distribution. “I told my Lions that supplies were coming,” Ayala says. “It was time to put some sweat into our vests.”
As lights began to come on in new parts of the city, signs of progress were evident. Still, dark swaths of the city were without electricity reminding Miriam and Ayala that there was much work yet to be done. From September to December 2017, Hurricane Maria inflicted more than US$91.61 billion in damage and caused 2,098 fatalities. Sadly, the number of deaths climbed to 2,975 by the end of February 2018. For the Lions of Puerto Rico, these figures struck close to home.
Hope for the future
A year later, more than 300,000 natives of Puerto Rico have left the island. Some of the families who remained live in one room, unable to pay to rebuild the rest of their homes. Many must now live with relatives. And yet, the resilience of those put to the test during this powerful hurricane is evident. They continue to help others even while still struggling themselves. With so much work still to be done, Lions are still busy serving Puerto Rico residents in need.
Lions have always accepted and met challenges. Two years after the storm, local Lions are still leading disaster reconstruction efforts, despite the difficult, often treacherous terrain raised, of the island. Lions, with support from LCIF, remain invested and engaged in bringing prosperity back to Puerto Rico. Lions in Puerto Rico have partnered with SACED (Sabana Grande Community and Economic Development, Inc.), a community development organization for Puerto Rico’s southwest region. LCIF provided a US$100,000 grant to build 5 new homes. Because of their responsible stewardship of the grant funds, Lions were able to complete those 5 homes and repairs to an additional 17 homes. Three more have been identified for repair, for a total of 20 homes repaired or rebuilt. The Lions have also teamed up with Master Paints, whose generous donation of paints presented Lions with tremendous cost savings and allowed them to focus LCIF grant funds on other disaster reconstruction needs. Lions’ continue their work not only repairing and rebuilding homes but restoring hope for those who need it most.
Download the eBook below to learn more about how Lions of Puerto Rico stared down Hurricane Maria, how Lion Vazquez and her family channeled grief with support of the community, and how you can support the compassionate work of Lions around the world.
Our clubs and local foundations are always there to assist, but the needs are greater than what individual clubs can do to help. That is where our foundation, LCIF and Campaign 100 come in. Learn more about the mission of LCIF through Campaign 100: LCIF Empowering Service, which deeply engages in disaster relief efforts and in preparing for, and responding to, natural disasters whenever and wherever they strike.
Bill Hatzos is the senior marketing specialist for Lions Clubs International Foundation.