Angelique Quiñones hadn’t planned to spend her Saturday fundraising for Puerto Rico. But when her mom Elizabeth Reyes spotted a social media post asking for volunteers, she and her sister Alexandra signed on, donning new Puerto Rico themed jerseys and heading at full speed toward Grand Avenue.
The two sisters and Reyes were three of some 90 volunteers (some planned, some impromptu) to come out to Grand Avenue and Quinnipiac River Park for “New Haven for Puerto Rico,” a grassroots fundraiser and outdoor concert for Puerto Rican families affected by Hurricane Maria. The product of both a GoFundMe page and on-site, individual donations and entertainment, the event raised over $60,000 for Puerto Rico relief efforts.
Participating partners included the City of New Haven, New Haven Latino Council, Puerto Ricans United Inc. and ARTE, Inc., which just opened its annual Hispanic Heritage Month exhibition.
At his 19 Grand Ave. gallery all day Friday and Saturday, ARTE, Inc. Director David Greco called the event “just amazing.”
“Puerto Rico will be better in the long run — Puerto Ricans are such resilient people,” he said. “They bounce back. But they still need so much help.”
Greco added that the crisis on the island hits home: Many New Haveners have been trying to get in touch with their friends and family members and help them evacuate. Since the hurricane, his mother-in-law has been stranded in her rural mountain town, unable to access through roads that were destroyed by the storm. As Greco and his partner try to get her to New Haven—a process that has involved booking flights, and then rebooking them as they’re serially cancelled—she is running out of food.
As of 2014, 8.4 percent (that’s 301,182 people) of Connecticut’s total population was Puerto Rican, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University New York. In New Haven County, which includes not only New Haven but also its surrounding municipalities, that number was 24 percent of the total population and 31 percent of the state’s.
At ARTE, Inc. paintings and multimedia work from the exhibition winked out on the walls. In a series of works by artist Joel Cruz, Puerto Ricans endured, rallying around the flag and celebrating the island’s bright architecture. Two figures in a painting nearly came to life, raising the flag triumphantly before a historic church. Speaking on the artist’s behalf, Greco said that Cruz had originally planned to submit other works to the exhibition, but changed his mind when the hurricane hit.
As volunteers fanned out over Grand Avenue, Greco offered coffee, pastries and pizza to those who needed a break, or were counting the mix of cash and checks flowing in. Elsewhere in the small gallery, a group sold shirts reading “Got Coquito?” to go towards fundraising efforts.
Following Saturday’s event, he said that a delegation including him and Rep. Juan Candelaria would be working on where to send the funds and how to visit for on-site humanitarian relief. He said they’ve already decided “we’re definitely not going through the government,” to avoid corruption and mismanagement of funds.
Organizers had asked volunteers to spread out at different locations, going as far as State and Court Streets downtown. At Grand and Blatchley Avenues, Waleska Candelaria and Amado Heredia were collecting cash donations from drivers who passed them. The sister of State Rep. Juan Candelaria, Waleska is mourning an aunt who perished during the storm, and said that her fundraising efforts felt personal.
Farther down Grand at the Quinnipiac River, fundraising efforts continued with musical and dance accompaniment, with representatives from Puerto Ricans United, Inc., New Haven’s fire department, and both state and national legislative bodies asking for donations. Downtown Alder candidate Hacibey Catalbasoglu announced that his family’s business Brick Oven Pizza will have a fundraiser on Monday, donating proceeds from orders that mention Saturday’s Puerto Rico fundraiser.
“My heart is with the Puerto Rican community here, in our city and our state, as well as our families in Puerto Rico who are suffering, and through no fault of their own,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro. “The federal government should not skip one beat. We should be there making sure that the hospitals are running, that the roads are clear, distributing medicine and other services.”
“We should not let this happen to Americans or anyone,” she added as a state away, President Donald Trump fired off a series of angry Tweets to the mayor of San Juan. “There should be no slow walking … It should be done now.”
Groups including Movimiento Cultural tookg the stage with bomba dancers and euphoric, percussive beats. In the crowd (he later also performed onstage), Bregamos Community Theater Founder Rafael Ramos beat his drum and mingled with the crowd.
Swaying back and forth from his place on Front Street, flag vendor Ramon Rivera made a direct donation to relief efforts, then decided to donate half his proceeds as well. Waving a large Puerto Rican flag, he watched as the crowd transformed from a tight, chilly huddle to a bumping celebration of Puerto Rican culture, with strangers arm-in-arm and shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.
As that outdoor dance party continued after the event’s 5 p.m. conclusion, nearby churches collected donations of water, canned and packaged food, clothing, diapers, medical supplies and paper goods that had been coming in.
At Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal on East Pearl Street, Pastor Hector Luis Otero said that a mix of congregants and community members had donated “enough to fill three or four” 40-foot shipping containers with supplies. Now, he is working with shipping companies and Candelaria to coordinate a pick up this week.
From the church, supplies will go to a port in New York City, and then to the island. He said that he is also “trying to get to Puerto Rico” himself in the next two to three weeks.
“We feel awesome because the community responded in such a great manner,” he said. “The [recovery] process in Puerto Rico is going to take a long time.”
He added that around 65 percent of the church’s regular attendees, of whom there are about 400, are first or second generation Puerto Rican. “We’re trying to put our hands together and help,” he said.
David Sepulveda contributed reporting.
For New Haveners still looking to donate, the GoFundMe campaign is still open. Iglesia Cristiana Estrella de Jacob, Iglesia Cristiana Estrella Resplandeciente de Jacob, and Iglesia de Dios Pentecostal are still taking supplies. In Downtown New Haven, Brick Oven Pizza will be having a fundraiser for Puerto Rico on Monday. It will be donating all of Monday’s earnings to relief efforts.