Life has not yet returned to normal in Puerto Rico. As of the writing of this article, some reports indicated that up to 45% of residences are still without power. “Blue tarp villages” cover the landscape. Lack of power and tarp-covered homes are two of the more visible effects, while a bruised economy and a population outflow are less visible long-term concerns. The population of Puerto Rico dropped by 100,000 people in the months following Hurricane Maria, and the Centre for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York estimates that number may double.
In late December, in partnership with two other non-profit groups, United for Puerto Rico (UPPR) and LIFT Non-Profit Disaster Logistics (LIFT) made possible by a contact of Rev. Mark Hattabaugh of Cooper City, Florida, Compassion Services International (CSI) distributed more than four containers of donated goods to communities throughout Puerto Rico. CSI President Rob Rodenbush was on-site in Puerto Rico in December to meet with those involved with this project including representatives of UPPR, Mr. Michael Rettig, president of LIFT and many other outstanding individuals, who assisted with transportation and distribution of the contents of the containers. UPPR, an initiative started by the Office of the First Lady of Puerto Rico in response to the recent hurricane disaster, oversaw the collection of items that filled the containers, which was made possible due to the assistance and help of an outstanding group of individuals from the state of Maryland.
In total, 115 pallets of basic necessities such as non-perishable food items, cleaning supplies, childcare products, basic medical supplies, and more were delivered. These supplies arrived in San Juan on December 19 and were transported inland to the UPC of Puerto Rico Campground, which functioned as a staging area and distribution center. Missionaries to Puerto Rico, Rev. Gary and Kristi Landaw, Rev. Joseph and Cassandra Landaw, Rev. Paul and Stephanie Rivero, and other pastors, churches and leaders from the UPC of Puerto Rico were instrumental in coordinating and overseeing these efforts. Volunteers worked for weeks to ensure supplies were delivered to those in need. Destinations included individuals who were homebound, elderly care facilities, families, and children’s homes. One particular example was a long-term nursing care facility called “Hogar Esperanza” or “House of Hope” located in the northeast area of Puerto Rico. Another was a home for mistreated children in Vega Alta.
As supplies were distributed through UPCI churches on the way to those in need, local churches gained a positive and more visible position within their communities. While the population decrease following Maria has affected church attendance, relief supplies have provided encouragement, as well as evangelism opportunities to local churches. “It has given us an open door in areas we didn’t have an open door before,” said Rev. Landaw, who also reported new church visitors from contacts made during the distribution process.
Basic necessities are a welcome relief to immediate needs, but the long-term recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean requires further work and support. Many churches have suffered structural damage and have lost seating, sound equipment, and musical instruments due to water damage. Churches are inhibited in their ability to fix and replace damaged materials due to the decline in church attendance. Continued support is needed for our church family and all people across the Caribbean. If you would like to unite with us in supporting relief and reconstruction in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, please first pray about your involvement, then help spread awareness about the needs, and consider partnering with us financially. Visit www.compassionserivces.org/donate to learn more about contributing. We also encourage pastors and churches to participate in Compassion Sunday on February 25, 2018, a special day designated by the UPCI Global Missions to share the need and mission of CSI with your congregation.
“CSI has been our lifeline and a special assistance in this time of need,” said Rev. Landaw. “We want all the donors, leaders, and whomever else is involved with CSI to know that we express our gratitude.”