Two months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a large part of the U.S. territory remains in shambles. A lack of reliable electricity, and the destruction of bridges and roads makes it difficult to shuttle supplies to much of the region.
Holly Lane Elementary School in Westlake is trying to do its part by helping one of its own families impacted by the storm.
Bernice Baker, who is from Isabela on the northwest side of Puerto Rico, moved to Westlake 12 years ago with her husband Marcello Loureiro. Their children attend the Westlake Schools — Victoria Loureiro is an eighth grader at Lee Burneson Middle School, and Rui Loureiro is a third grader at Holly Lane.
Upon hearing that family members were impacted the Hurricane Maria, Holly Lane organized a Penny Wars to collect money for Baker’s relatives. Baker is planning a trip back to Puerto Rico on Nov. 23 to surprise her family for Thanksgiving.
“After everything they had been through, they deserve a happy Thanksgiving,” Baker said. “Also, I want to bring help to the less fortunate.”
The family’s friends and neighbors have been donating and sending supplies, but Baker said so much need remains. Most of her family remains in Isabela and surrounding towns Aguadilla, Quebradillas and Arecibo. She said everyone is doing well, but they have no power, and only a few have running water.
“They have to adjust to a different and difficult way of living,” Baker said, adding that it was devastating watching news reports about the damage from the hurricane. “The northwest part of the island where my family is was completely uncommunicative with the rest of the island and the world. After four days I got a phone call from my aunt who drove over an hour to get cell phone service.”
Baker said she is bringing as many supplies as she can in her luggage. She is using the $1,000 raised by Holly Lane’s Penny Wars to buy water filters, solar lamps and bug repellant – items hard to come by on the island. After providing for her family, she intends to donate the rest of the items to the community through Elpyda, a local nonprofit organization in Puerto Rico. She suggests donations be directed to this group through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Esperanzaengriego/.
“I’m extremely grateful for the Westlake community and Holly Lane. They have become my family,” Baker said. “I’ve never been through something like this before. The community’s willingness to help and donate has been an amazing experience.”