Guest Blog: First-Hand from The New York Foundling in Puerto Rico

This post was written by Carmen Jirau-Rivera, Chief Program Officer at The New York Foundling, and originally appeared on Catholic Charities Archdioceses of New York’s blog.


It’s dire out there. Our island is still very much in need of assistance. Hurricane Maria blew off daycare center roofs, broke windows, and tore out air conditioners, leaving our sites surrounded by downed trees and power lines, water-sodden walls, branches inside classrooms and classroom equipment and supplies that need to be replaced.


We had to clean and decontaminate the premises in order to resume services in as many of our daycare centers as possible because children we serve are hungry and parents are in need of respite and need to return to work themselves.


We are literally operating without power, with little water and food supplies are limited. So far, we reopened 17 of our 42 daycare centers in the municipalities we serve.


We are so appreciative to Msgr. Sullivan at Catholic Charities for the $25,000 check he gave us last week on behalf of Catholic Charities NY and to Caritas, Catholic Charities’ sister agency in Puerto Rico, for the $20,000 they gave us to provide vouchers for the families and to secure food for the centers.


Our center staff has initiated the cleanup necessary to resume services, and we relied on our local contractors to remove debris and ensure entrances and playground areas for the children are safe. Our staff, 37 of whom lost their own homes or sustained such damage that they had to vacate, have returned to work and engaged in the tasks necessary to clean and decontaminate centers to ensure the centers comply with and adhere to the health and safety regulations.


We open our centers between 7 and 8 a.m. and keep them open until noon to provide each child with breakfast and lunch, and a much needed sense of normalcy during this time of upheaval in the lives. We ask our parents to stay so we may provide them with a light meal as well and much needed respite.


Our nutritionists are running around the island to secure food supplies. This means they have to keep refueling and waiting on line. Thankfully, the lines for fuel have decreased.


But waiting for food can take a full day and not every vendor has an ample supply of food. Our nutritionists have to wait hours in their cars just to get into food distribution sites’ parking lot. Then, for crowd control, they have to wait in lines to get into the stores. Inside, the food supply is limited.


There is almost no access to fresh fruit and meat, just carrots, peppers and some dried food. We cook everything we get and deliver it to our daycare sites. We know there are these huge trailers sitting at the port yet supplies are not getting into supermarkets fast enough.


Nowhere on the island do our daycare sites have power, not even at our main office. Some of our centers have gas and they are able to cook a simple hot meal.


We keep our daycare sites open until noon because by then it becomes unbearably hot and the children and staff can’t stand it.


The most pressing need, however, is water. We have running water in our centers but supplies are so low we‘re running out. We use all the gallons of water we have to flush toilets. We met with businesses to see if we can get water and have it delivered straight to our central office so our staff can disseminate water to our daycare centers.


Without water we’ll have to shut down.


Thanks to our partner and affiliate, New York Foundling, along with our sister agency, Caritas Puerto, Catholic Charities NY is on the ground, helping Puerto Rico rebuild and is serving as a conduit for donations for Puerto Rico Relief and Recovery efforts.



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