For so many of us right now the world feels awful, overwhelming, and never-ending. I know what it’s like to hit an empathy wall and feel that you have nothing left of yourself to give.
That is one of the reasons why I won’t tell you any more in specific about the devastation in Puerto Rico. The utter failure and cruelty of the United States federal government to help its own citizens. That has been well covered by other news media in the last two weeks. Instead, I will take this brief moment to tell you about me.
Everyone knows I am black when they first lay eyes on me, but most don’t know that I’m Puerto Rican until I tell them — and I tell them often, loudly, proudly. I was not born in Puerto Rico, but its blood is in my veins. The day I was born, I was named after my grandmother. She was the first person to teach me Spanish. I have never gone to bed in a home that didn’t have the Puerto Rican flag hanging over my head. When I left for college, I put one outside my dormitory door. It hung from the balcony of my first apartment. A small version adorned the bookcase of my first office.
I still remember vividly the first time I sunk my feet into the sand on my island. How it felt to swim in its ocean as far as I could, pretending I was a mermaid as the sun warmed my shoulders, not stopping until my mother called out because she could no longer see me from the shore. I bottled some of that same water as a teenager; it sits on the altar in my bedroom today.
I am only one person, and my story by no means representative of all Puerto Ricans. I am fortunate that my immediate family has already migrated to the United States and was not endangered by the storm. I am incredibly fortunate that the majority of our extended family on the island has also been accounted for. Still, my heart is broken in ways that I don’t yet know how to repair. Puerto Rico is my home. It is not an unknown location in the ocean to me, a place to party on Spring Break, a trendy summer song to dance to. It’s my heart. It’s as intimate to my body as the air I’m breathing as I type this.
I made this list of charity organizations and volunteer opportunities over the weekend and shared it with the Autostraddle Staff Writers; our editors asked that I open it up to our larger Straddler community as well. If you can give, whether that means financial donations or direct supplies, time as a volunteer, or even just calling your congressional representatives, please do. Please take a moment and help my home.
Local Organizations and Community Funds
This organization has been mentioned often on social media. The first lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, has developed this fund in collaboration with the private sector (including Burger King, Coca Cola, Walgreens, AT&T, among others). Donations will focus on necessary construction materials to rebuild homes and also provide resources for volunteer labor. To ensure full accountability and transparency of donations, the organization is working with Microsoft and Evertec Inc. to establish a platform that will track how the organization spends its funds. It’s also being backed by Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony (Lopez also gave one million dollars to the New York State Empire Relief Fund).
Vieques is a low-income island off the coast of Puerto Rico that you may or may not have heard of because it was a site of US military testing for decades that lead to an unknown number of environmental and health problems continuing to plague today. This island once had some of the most beautiful beaches in Puerto Rico before the United States ravaged it for our own military needs, and they were finally on the mend when the hurricane hit. ViequesLove was started by Kelly Thompson, the editor and publisher of Vieques Insider Magazine. Thompson is working with COREFI, a Puerto Rican nonprofit, to get immediate health supplies, communication supplies, and funding for long term rebuilding efforts to the community.
(Personal Disclosure: I donated to this organization) Taller Salud is a longstanding and well-known radical feminist grassroots organization in Puerto Rico focused on providing healthcare and housing resources to Puerto Rican women and children, most specifically in the black low-income community of Loiza- a coastal town outside of San Juan which is now utterly devastated by Maria. They are partnering with Center for Popular Democracy and will focus their funds not only on immediate recovery and resource needs, but on the equitable rebuilding of properties for low-income Puerto Rican families in the wake of the storm
The Boys & Girls Club is a lifeline for so many low-income kids and kids of color across the continental United States and in Puerto Rico. They not only provide recreation, but also mental health and social services. They are asking for help to rebuild on the island.
Paz Para La Mujer is another longstanding feminist organization on the island, focused on helping survivors of domestic abuse. They are using donations to help with recovery in Loiza and Culebra, another small island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Note: Their website is in Spanish, but it’s fairly easy to navigate to the donate button even if you are not a Spanish speaker.
Mainland U.S.-Based Charities and Organizations
(Personal Disclosure: I donated to this organization) The Hispanic Federation has also been discussed heavily on social media because it is being backed by Lin Manuel Miranda and Gina Rodriguez. However, that is not why I am including them on this list. The Hispanic Federation is one of the largest Latinx nonprofits in the United States. They function in part as a fundraising portal that works with local Latinx grassroots organizations- over 100 listed on their website across 16 states- to provide financial support where it is most needed. They’re also queer inclusive. Last year they created Proyeto Somos Orlando to provide mental health services and grief counseling to the survivors and families of the Pulse shooting. They set up the “Unidos Fund” for Maria Relief and Mexican Earthquake Relief. As it relates to Maria, the Hispanic Federation are working with NYC and the New York State Empire Relief fund to buy direct supply needs and then put those items on chartered planes as fast as possible. They have pledged that 100% of donations raised will go directly to the relief effort. To donate, please select “Puerto Rican Hurricane Relief” from the drop down menu. (You can also donate to the Hispanic Federation by streaming or purchasing Lin Manuel’s charity single, “Almost Like Praying”.)
CenterLink is an organization that connects local LGBT centers across the United States. They are raising funds for El Centro in Puerto Rico. El Centro is one of the few guaranteed safe havens for queer and trans Puerto Ricans on the island, and as we all know, LGBT communities are often among of the hardest hit during an emergency and have the fewest direct resources.
New York is home to many Puerto Ricans in the diaspora, and the local government has stepped up in a major way to help Puerto Rico. The Empire State Relief Fund was built in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help rebuild the parts of NY most affected by the storm, however Governor Cuomo has reinstated the fund in relationship with the NYC mayor’s office to help with Puerto Rican relief. They have already sent NY First Responders to the island and have sent chartered planes of supplies. They have committed to keep sending chartered planes and first responders for as long as they can are are needed. If you live in New York state , you can also directly drop off supplies at these locations.
Solar for PR & Coquí Solar
Solar for PR is a crowdrise fundraiser with a simple, but elegant purpose: send solar light cubes to Puerto Rico because the island is due to be without power for months on end. Each cube costs $13, requires no external energy source, and is long lasting. These “solar puffs” were already proven to be helpful in Haiti after their earthquake, Syria, and in Greece. They will send as many to Puerto Rico as they are able to raise funds to donate. Similar solar energy efforts are also underway with Coquí Solar.
The Sato Project is mobilizing to provide supplies and support to their team on the ground in Puerto Rico and to transport as many dogs as they can to safety in the coming days and weeks.
Chef José Andrés and the World Central Kitchen Network have done so much in the last month. They are feeding thousands of Puerto Ricans hot meals every day at a time when FEMA packets have often included barely more than a can of Vienna sausage and a packet of skillets. In recent weeks, they’ve partnered with GOYA foods, Mercy Corps, and others to get into rural communities that have been left behind thus far in the recovery effort. Your donations will fund food, fuel, chef travel, and logistics. You can also follow Chef José Andrés on twitter to find out more ways to help.
The relationship between the Catholic Church and queer communities is very rightfully fraught. However, a majority of Puerto Ricans are at least culturally Catholic and I am a queer Puerto Rican who still believes in the social justice work of Catholicism. Catholic Charities is one of the most iron-clad organizations you could ask for when it comes to doing what they say they will with your money. They have pledged that 100% of donations raised will go to disaster relief and they will be on the island long after a lot of other organizations have left.
Other Important Ways to Help Beyond Monetary Donations
Calling Congress works. We have seen it time and again in the fight to save the Affordable Care Act. Make them hear you. 100 Days for Puerto Rico provides simple tools (such as phone call scripts) to take concrete social and political action that will support Puerto Rico’s recovery over the next 100 days. Call your congressional representatives, ask that they permanently repeal the Jones Act and build an emergency relief package for Puerto Rico.
The Maria Tech Recovery Effort is making a simple Google spreadsheet of those with STEM backgrounds who are ready to volunteer their services in getting Puerto Rico’s energy and communication grids back on their feet. They are then sharing this list with organizations as needed or requested in hopes of building one-to-one contacts.
Team Rubicon connects military vets and first responders to emergency response teams in need of help. If you have a military background and want to help, this is a place to start.
Puerto Rico VOAD are taking lists of people who are willing to travel to Puerto Rico and volunteer in local communities during the upcoming months as the recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma and Maria gets underway. They are also asking that you be patient; it may be a while before everything is stable and settled enough to even support having a large-scale volunteer effort. A friend who volunteered after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans described the process to me as “sign up, and then wait and be ready to deploy.” Note: When I opened the website it was in Spanish, but Google seemed able to translate it to English with a button click that was already embedded.
All Hands is a well-respected environmental disaster relief organization. The same “sign up and wait” disclaimer applies here as it did with the Puerto Rico VOAD. I have linked the web portal for their volunteer effort in the US Virgin Islands. Please do not forget USVI in the big push to help Puerto Rico. We are all in this together.
Celebrity charities can be difficult to navigate. We live in a time where celebrity has a lot of cache. I think that people (sometimes myself included) feel good about an organization when we see it endorsed by a known person we feel we can trust. At the same time, there have been horror stories of celebrity organizations where funds were badly mismanaged and that trust was ruined. With that in mind, I’ve only included the celebrity based charities from people that I know have been working in Puerto Rico long before the storm, my logic being that they will perhaps best know how to help compared to some of their other peers. The exception to this set standard is TIDAL, which has already proven to be smart and generous in their recovery efforts, so I have included them as well.
Ricky Martin is a highly regarded celebrity philanthropist who has focused a lot of his past giving efforts in Puerto Rico. Martin donated $10K his personal finances to kickstart his foundation’s hurricane recovery effort. This has allowed them to already be on the ground providing water, food, clothing, and medical supplies.
Voices for Puerto Rico is a collective effort spearheaded by Puerto Rican and other mostly Latinx artists living in the United States. Their focus is supporting rural and/or otherwise disconnected local communities in Puerto Rico. They are looking to provide not only emergency needs, but also solar energy prospects, recreational initiatives for children, and mental health resources. Their donations will go directly to RS Events for Life, a 501c3 organization based in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, who will then be dispersing the funds across the island on Voices’ behalf. The celebrity partners of Voices for Puerto Rico are too long to list here, but includes: Gina Rodriguez, Benicio del Toro, Roselyn Sanchez, Eva Longoria, Justina Machado and the entire cast of One Day at a Time including Rita Moreno, Esai Morales, and Rosie Perez, among others.
Carmelo Anthony, the Afro-Puerto Rican basketball star, has been thoughtfully and purposefully giving back to Puerto Rico, specifically Puerto Rican children and sports communities, over the last few years. In the wake of Hurricane Maria his foundation is looking to raise funds to support Puerto Rican school children and families. Anthony has been using his celebrity platform to be vocal about getting help to Puerto Rico, including writing an heartfelt open letter and video, as well as dedicating time from his first press conference as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder to pledge, “I am committed to my island… I don’t want to just do something just to do it. I want it to be meaningful. I want the people to feel impacted by what I’m trying to create.”
I don’t know if you’ve seen the meme going around social media that “Beyoncé, Rihanna and Pitbull have done more for Puerto Rico than the Trump administration,” but there are nuggets of truth to it. I have not seen any other celebrity-based organization be as smart or efficient in their recovery efforts as TIDAL. In addition to already pledging $3 million direct dollars in relief support to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the rest of the Caribbean, all net proceeds of this month’s TidalXBrooklyn Anniversary Concert will go to disaster relief as well. Beyoncé also released a charity single last week, with 100% of its profits going to Hurricane and Earthquake support. On top of all of that, TIDAL has been supporting the Empire State Relief Drop Off Locations in NYC by deploying famous Latinx celebrities (Angie Martinez, Fat Joe, Daddy Yankee, and more) for meet-and-greets in the community, drop off, and package supplies. Wait, there’s more! They are also sponsoring chartered planes along with Empire Relief to go to Puerto Rico with relief supplies. WHEW! That’s a lot. Much respect for my Queen. Here’s how you can get involved:
- You can buy supplies from their Amazon wish list and have it put directly on a chartered plane to Puerto Rico on your behalf (Disclosure: I participated in this action item.)
- I already listed this above, but here’s a reminder about drop off locations across New York state.
- You can buy tickets for the TIDALxBrooklyn Annual Anniversary Concert (100% net proceeds go to Puerto Rican and Mexican disaster recovery).
- You can otherwise donate financially here.
- 100% of the purchase and streaming profits of the Beyoncé released remix to J. Balvin’s reggaeton hit Mi Gente go to the recovery effort as well. You can find it on Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music.
I Want to Stay Informed Via Social Media. Who Should I Follow?
The Center for Puerto Rican Studies is the premiere library and research archives regarding the history of the Puerto Rican diaspora. They have truly tripled their efforts to be a community resource in the wake of the hurricane. Follow them on twitter or via their website.
Dr. Marisol LeBron
Admittedly, Marisol is a very near and dear personal friend. But also she’s a queer academic who happens to be one of the most up-and-coming Puerto Rican studies scholars in the country. She co-founded the #PuertoRicanSyllabus, an essential public intellectual resource about the colonial economics of Puerto Rico. She’s also written publicly about the effect of Hurricane Maria for Puerto Rico in the wake of their already existing economic crisis for The Guardian. Unrelated, but she’s also funny and has great taste in music. Follow her on twitter.
Diasporicans is a portal focused on helping Puerto Ricans across the diaspora find their family and friends on the island.
I would recommend both of these outlets to stay informed about Latinx communities beyond the immediacy of the hurricane. They are independent websites focused on the Latinx diaspora; Latino Rebels focuses leans towards political news and REMEZCLA focuses more on culture. They have been indispensable in the weeks following the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Follow Latino Rebels and REMEZCLA on twitter.
I know it goes without saying, but this list isn’t exhaustive. These are just the people and organizations that I have seen, researched, and felt confident saying I could verify for those who are looking how to best help and don’t know where to start.
That said, you may know of other places or organizations and that is ok! Help however feels best and right in your heart!
But please, do help.