Families answer call to help Puerto Rico

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By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — A call to action for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico has spurred acts of generosity by area residents.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Albany-based Citizen Action put out a call to collect supplies to send to the island.

Niskayuna resident Tina Lee said Facebook videos of the desperate situation in the U.S. territory left her feeling sad and somewhat helpless, until an email from Citizen Action hit her inbox.

Lee heeded the call for donations and passed on the email to a few friends. In the end, so many people donated items that Lee had to remove the seats of her minivan to accommodate all the diapers, batteries, toilet paper and other personal items.

“[Everyone who donated] felt like they wanted to do something,” Lee said. “It speaks to how we see this situation in Puerto Rico.”

Even though Lee only contacted a few people, more than 20 families — some of whom Lee had never met — dropped off items at her home.

“A few strangers just showed up,” Lee said.

The drive itself was started by Citizen Action board member Celia Alfonso.

“We sent an email to our membership that we needed items,” Alfonso said. “It’s really incredible how the community stepped up.”

Alfonso said more than 5,000 bottles of water were collected, along with numerous boxes of diapers and food, powdered milk, washcloths, deodorant and more.

The supplies were loaded into a volunteer’s RV and taken to another location to be loaded into a yet larger vehicle for transport to the Port of Boston, where they would make their way via a shipping container to Puerto Rico, Alfonso said.

Normal freight shipping time would land the supplies in Puerto Rico around Oct. 8.

“The people of Niskayuna were absolutely wonderful,” Alfonso said. “It was an example of humanity transcending race and class and culture.”

Lee, who dropped off the items she collected in Albany on Oct. 1, was surprised at the turnout but was thrilled to feel like she had helped those in need.

“It’s like we’re sending our support and our prayers with every bottle of water,” she said.