Puerto Rico hurricane relief donations stuck on mainland; Catholic Extension sends more than $300K

ByLeah Hope and Liz Nagy WLS logo
Friday, September 29, 2017
Puerto Rico hurricane relief donations stuck on mainland
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It has taken effort by many people to get even some of the many supplies collected for Puerto Rico disaster relief in Chicago onto a flight to the island.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Scrolling through her Facebook feed puts a pit in Karimar Brown's stomach.

"When I see pictures it doesn't even seem real," she said.

Brown's home of Mayaguez, two hours west of San Juan, is devastated: buckled roads, sheared power lines, and homeless desperation.

"When I'm sitting here grabbing a bottle of water it's all I can think about. There's people who don't even have that," said Brown.

So she's making it her mission to get her people everything they need.

"We're working with a company called Aeropak where we're going to send through them," she said.

Brown and her husband Alex, a former Chicago Bears defensive end, are aiming, with anyone's help, to fill up a trailer with basic supplies and have plans to deliver it directly.

"When it gets to the port in Puerto Rico, they're going to pick it up and drive it directly to Mayaguez," she said.

Casa Puertorriquena in Humboldt Park has 15 shipping containers of supplies in a warehouse waiting to be sent to Puerto Rico. They need trucks, drivers and government clearance.

The general manager of Lockdown Bar & Grill in the city's West Town neighborhood did a diaper drive for Houston and was moved to do another for Puerto Rico. The diapers and supplies Tiffany Kane collected will go to the island in containers secured by Ivy Linares and her friend.

Linares, a Portage Park events planner, reached out to shippers. They will send two containers to four towns where they have relatives or close friends directing the relief to those who need it.

"I couldn't just sit here with my arms crossed and not do anything for our brothers and sisters on Puerto Rico," Linares said.

Nilda Gomez lives in Puerto Rico and came to Chicago Monday with only the clothes on her back to get supplies for her and her elderly parents.

"This is a matter of life and death. This is crucial," she said. "This is the circumstances. We don't have anything. Nobody understands, we have nothing."

Casa Puertoriquenna is also warning of a scam trying to take advantage of their collection efforts. They said people in the neighborhood have been collecting cash from concerned Chicagoans, claiming it will go to the group as part of a fundraising effort. But Casa Puertoriquenna is collecting material donations only, not cash. They said any cash donations given to these people are not being used for their disaster relief effort.


A local Catholic charity is sending more than $300,000 to help churches on Puerto Rico get up and running again so they can help their parishioners and communities.

Karla Ortiz has spent the week since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in Chicago, waiting, worrying and wondering about her entire family.

"All of my family is there," she said. "I'm the only one who is here, so my mom, my dad, my uncle, my grandparents."

Ortiz, who works at Catholic Extension, had to wait until Wednesday to get an email from her parents.

"So when I saw in the subject line 'My dear daughter, I don't know when you'll receive this message.' The first thing that she says, 'Thank God I'm alive. It's been horrible.' She begins to describe everything she knew, everything she has seen- she says Puerto Rico has transformed," Ortiz said.

Her family send pictures of the destruction. Her father also had to make a trip to the hospital.

"My dad needed to get insulin for my mom, so he had to drive a whole hour away to get insulin and drive back, and he had just enough gas," she said.

In the meantime Catholic Extension, where Ortiz works, got an emergency phone call from a bishop at an inland diocese, desperate and asking for help.

"It was the first call he was able to make and the first person he talked to was one of our staff here at Catholic Extension, basically saying the island was in a state of chaos," said Father Jack Wall, president of Catholic Extension.

Catholic Extension will be sending the Puerto Rican diocese more than $300,000.

Ortiz is working on getting her family to Chicago for their safety and health.

"Never had I thought that I would be here, losing my sleep because I don't know if my mom is going to be able to have her medicine. Because insulin has to be cold and there is no electricity," she said.

Since the email, Ortiz has not heard anything else from her family; no more emails or phone calls. She's waiting.