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Billiken Relief: SLU Students Raise Funds for Puerto Rico

A+Puerto+Rico+flag+flies+outside+of+Mi+Caribe%2C+where+a+fundraiser+for+the+island+took+place.
A Puerto Rico flag flies outside of Mi Caribe, where a fundraiser for the island took place.

A Puerto Rico flag flies outside of Mi Caribe, where a fundraiser for the island took place.

Emma Carmody

Emma Carmody

A Puerto Rico flag flies outside of Mi Caribe, where a fundraiser for the island took place.

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In the early morning hours of Wednesday, Sept. 19, Hurricane Maria roared into Puerto Rico, a United States territory, as a Category 4 storm. While the hurricane weakened into a Category 3 over the course of the day as it traveled into Dominica, the destruction it left behind on the Caribbean island was devastating.

With 150 mph winds and torrential rains, Hurricane Maria brought tidal surges of four to six feet to the island, according to the National Hurricane Center. Furthermore, people were left without electricity, clean water, or gas.

“It was really bad listening to the news,” said Sara Vendrell, a junior biomedical engineering student from San Juan, Puerto Rico. “Sometimes they make it seem worse than it is to make a point; however, everything they were saying was true. We’re a very small island and it was a very big hurricane. We were in such big debt, and there was no money to save anything.”

National aid was delayed at first.“The U.S. wasn’t helping as much and it was just frustrating to watch from an outside point of view and watch all your family actually experience it,” said Vendrell. ”And you just can’t do anything,”

SLU students answered the call for aid. Along with a few other students, Vendrell quickly organized a fundraiser at the Caribbean restaurant on Lindell Boulevard, Mi Caribe. The party was largely promoted over social media, with 125 guests marked as “Going” and 258 marked as “Interested” on the Facebook event page.  Vendrell estimated about 200 guests came out to support the cause on Saturday night.

From the $5 cover charge at the door as well as other donations collected throughout the night, they estimated that the amount raised was $2,500. The bar at Mi Caribe also contributed half of its earnings that night, bringing the total amount raised to over $3,000 for the night. “I did not think it would be the success that it was,” said Vendrell. “I was very impressed by the amount of people that showed up.”

Anjali Patel, a junior biomedical engineering student from Bakersfield, Calif., also helped plan the event. “The impact of the situation really hit me on Saturday night when Sara and I were sitting on the steps of Mi Caribe, counting the money, and I could see the tears forming in her eyes,” she said. “She puts on this brave face every day, and it makes it easy to think that this situation is not affecting her, but I know this hasn’t been easy for her, and I wanted to do all I could to help her, her family, and all the other residents of Puerto Rico out.”

The proceeds of the night were split in two: half went to Vendrell’s friend back home whose roof was ripped off her house. “She lost everything,” said Vendrell. “It was absolutely terrible. She’s not a U.S. citizen so FEMA wasn’t helping her out, because she didn’t have a social security number. So, she has nothing right now. It’s really tough to see, because these are people I love dearly.”

The other half went to Students With Puerto Rico, an organization that Vendrell’s friend from home started. The movement grew quickly, with representatives raising money and awareness at 121 U.S. colleges and universities.

In addition to SLU’s contribution from the Mi Caribe event, the fundraiser has garnered lots of support from other sources as well. “It got so much attention that even Jimmy Fallon donated $20,000,” said Vendrell. “They have made so much.” At press time, the group has raised over $157,000 towards Hurricane Maria relief.

Fallon was just one of several celebrities who showed support for the victims of Hurricane Maria. Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator and original star of “Hamilton”, raised enough money through Twitter to transport two airplanes of first responders and 15,000 pounds of food to the island. Miranda, a native Puerto Rican, shared a Hispanic Federation donation link in almost every one of his tweets for over a week and urged his 1.75 million followers to donate as much as they could for relief efforts, no matter where they were.

“It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around the situation,” said Patel. “You hear about it, you see the pictures, but you can’t truly imagine what it’s like to be in that situation. Even hearing Sara talk about her family in Puerto Rico—the entire thing seemed unreal.”

In the end, there is still much that can be done for Puerto Rico. Besides financial contributions, Vendrell and Patel both stressed the importance of raising awareness.

“It’s a really big issue and people are not aware of what’s happening, so the government is just not doing as much,” said Vendrell. “If people were more aware of what’s going on, maybe they’d be pressured into actually doing something.”

To donate to Hurricane Maria relief, go to gofundme.com/studentswithpr .

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Billiken Relief: SLU Students Raise Funds for Puerto Rico