On October 27th, four Peace Care St. Ann’s employees traveled to Puerto Rico to bring relief supplies to nursing home residents and family members impacted by Hurricane Maria. The group included Janet Merly-Liranzo, Administrator; Dilenia Rodriguez, Assistant Administrator; Elizabeth Rata, RN., Director of Nursing; and Gena Przeszlo, RN., employee health nurse; two Jersey City firefighters also traveled with them. Many St. Ann employees are Puerto Rican and have family members who live on the island which inspired the group to set out on their journey.
With only two weeks to plan, St. Ann’s and members of the Jersey City Fire Department got right to work. As soon as the travel date was set, the number of donations from co-workers, friends and family was extraordinary. People gave clothing, food, flashlights, cash and so much more. Several of St. Ann’s vendors donated either goods or monetary gifts: Medline, Unidine, Merit School of Nursing, Eastern International College of Dental Hygienists, and RS Construction. Janet reached out to a family member on the island to assist with trip logistics and to United Airlines to ask for assistance shipping the many boxes filled with supplies. Both asks for help paid off in big ways: the National Guard provided an escort from the airport and United Airlines waived package fees.
Despite all the media coverage, when the group arrived they were overwhelmed by the devastation. “Everything looked burnt,” said Dilenia Rodriguez. “All of the leaves were blown off the trees and the other vegetation had turned brown,” she continued. Due to the lack of infrastructure, a majority of the downed highway signs, trees, telephone poles and other debris still had not been cleared over one month after the storm. The group was most disturbed by the island residents’ level of needs for the most basic things like food, water and electricity.
“Life continues to be a struggle for Puerto Ricans,” said Janet Merly-Liranzo. Having grown-up on the island, she is acutely familiar with the islanders’ way of life and how dramatically it has changed since Hurricane Maria hit. “Many people who live here grow their own food but the storm destroyed all of that,” she said. The residents now primarily rely on what they can get from government agencies and aid groups; purchasing water and food can be difficult and very expensive. “A case of water can cost up to $10 and propane to use for cooking has been marked up to $50 a tank. The lack of electricity poses its own hardships: residents’ cell phones go uncharged, power is turned off from 6pm-11am to conserve electricity, and for those further away from population centers, families need to gather water for household chores like washing laundry,” she continued. Mrs. Merly-Liranzo was personally impacted by the storm; the roof of her 96 year-old grandmother’s house blew off and other relatives also had extensive damage to their homes.
The primary purpose of the group’s trip was to bring supplies to nursing homes and provide any needed assistance to vulnerable elderly communities. “What we found at the four nursing homes we visited was nothing short of amazing,” said Elizabeth Rata, RN. “The residents were clearly being well-cared for and the facilities were clean which seemed unbelievable considering the destruction around the homes.” Elizabeth continued. With basic needs being filled, the group focused their attention on listening to stories; Gena Przeszlo, RN explained, “Residents wanted and needed to share their stories. The storytelling process seemed cathartic and we were awed by their experiences and by their perseverance.”
Peace Care St. Ann’s continues to collect donations and are selling t-shirts to raise more money. “The rebuilding process will continue for years to come and St. Ann’s will do everything it can to help,” concluded Janet, “this won’t be our last trip to help the residents of Puerto Rico.”
To make a donation or to purchase a t-shirt, please call Danielle Sommella at (201) 433-0950 x528.