Beatrice Caraballo and her daughter, Crystal, watched the breaking news coverage of Hurricane Maria as the storm inched closer to making landfall in Puerto Rico and ultimately devastating the country and many others, which now holds the record as the tenth-most intense hurricane recorded in the Atlantic and has claimed the lives of nearly 100 individuals with hundreds still unaccounted for.
A native of Camden with many relatives and friends residing in Puerto Rico, Beatrice and her daughter began devising a strategy. “I thought to myself, ‘they are going to need our help when all of this is said and done,’” said Beatrice. “As it was hitting Puerto Rico and we were watching the news, my daughter was like ‘just ask people,’ put it on Facebook and see who will be willing to help. I didn’t think anybody would actually be interested.”
As it turns out, there were many who felt compelled to act and Beatrice’s post was answered by many comments of interest. Among them was a message from an old friend and Food Bank of South Jersey employee, Yarissa Reyes.
“Yarissa reached out and told me that we can work with the Food Bank to do something. From there we put together a flier and within days we had so much,” says Beatrice whose social media networking prowess resulted in outreach as far Delaware and Pennsylvania. The month-long food and supply drive coined “Make a Difference for Puerto Rico” resulted in 22,000 pounds of donated food, medical supplies, toiletries, cleaning supplies, baby products, pet care products and much more.
The delivery took four FBSJ trucks to the National Guard in Mt. Holly this past Tuesday, to go with a shipment of emergency supplies for the countless individuals still struggling in the Hurricane’s aftermath. While those who remained on the island continue to work tirelessly to rebuild their homes, there are others who are facing new challenges right here in South Jersey.
Isabel, a single mother with three young children and a new beneficiary at FBSJ explains how her elderly parents fled their devastated home in Puerto Rico as soon as they were able to and the new challenges she and her family face as a result.
“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to bring my parents over, and during the first couple of weeks it was okay, but it’s getting to a point where we can’t do this for too much longer,” explains Isabel, “My income is enough for me and my children and thankfully I haven’t had that need, but when you bring two more people into your house it’s like, ‘now what am I supposed to do?’ I mean, I’ll skip a meal if I have to, it’s not like I haven’t done it before, but I don’t have the luxury to not provide for my kids and it’s my responsibility as a daughter to take care of my parents, too…”
Isabel is not the only individual to have outreached FBSJ in the past few months with similar stories of hardship and with limited resources available for the thousands displaced since the storm, it’s likely the need will remain for months and years to come.
Although Beatrice’s first supply drive has ended, she has no intention of ending her efforts anytime soon. “This is a continuous effort. Until their houses are built back up and their jobs come back, which won’t be for a while, I’ll continue to do what I can to help,” states Beatrice.
Thanks to those like Beatrice who remain committed to serving those in need, FBSJ can continue to do more for South Jersey and those beyond its borders.