Children whose families fled the aftermath of Hurricane Maria were welcomed as part of a new family Saturday — the New Haven family.
State Rep. Juan Candelaria offered that welcome at a Three Kings Day celebration at John C. Daniels School.
Three local leaders — Jhonathan Rivera, State Rep. Al Paolillo, and Joseph Rodriguez, an aide to U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal — dressed as the three kings and distributed donated gifts to some 300 children, many of whom are among the 180 kids who have relocated from Puerto Rico to New Haven since the hurricane. The kings also partook in some dancing in between the gift giving.
“I understand it’s not easy to leave your beautiful island, and everything you know behind. We are celebrating a beautiful Puerto Rican tradition today to welcome you to New Haven, and to let you know that you are part of our family,” Candelaria, who is a native of a native of Hatillo, said during welcoming remarks at the event.
“I’m very excited with the turnout, but I’m emotional that we could give so little to families that have lost so much,” Candelaria added later.
In recent weeks, Candelaria and Rodriguez have worked with organizations such as Arte, Inc., New Haven Latino Council, New Haven Fire Department, and New Haven Police to send four containers of food, water, and medical supplies to Puerto Rico. They’ve also sent 200 mattresses. They worked with Daniel Diaz on Saturday’s party.
John C. Daniels Principal Daniel Bonet, whom the New Haven schools recruited for the job from Puerto Rico, was all smiles as he watched the kids go up to the stage to receive their gift, and take a picture with the kings.
“Making this happen here is a big part of my life because I celebrated Three Kings Day every year in my schools in Puerto Rico,” he said.
There was a sense of resiliency at the event from a people who’ve lost it all, and are determined to make a new life for themselves here in New Haven, after Hurricane Maria decimated their homes and left many without power, clean drinking water, and access to medical attention.
“This year is special,” said organizer Rodriguez. “We wanted to go all out for those families that are here from Puerto Rico.”