From the East Side to Puerto Rico


Volunteers sorted donations for hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center on Oct. 3. Marjorie Otto/Review

If you walked into the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center anytime the first week of October, the atmosphere felt very much like a beehive, with volunteers buzzing about with cases of food and water.

The center was serving as a drop-off location for donations for Puerto Rico, after a coalition of Minnesotans of Puerto Rican descent rallied to help family members back on the island, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria. The coalition secured a free plane through Delta Air Lines to fill up with donations, to be flown to the island.

The deadline for donations was 8 p.m. Oct. 3, to give organizers time to inventory all the items, load them into boxes and pallets, fill a semitrailer and get it to the airport.

 

A path of destruction

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20 and left behind complete destruction. Much of the island is still without power and cell service, leaving many people abroad wondering how their families are doing. 

When Maria struck, Aiyana Machado, who helped establish the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center and is of Puerto Rican descent, began collecting donations to send to the island. People would drop items off on her porch, trusting her to find a way to get them to where they needed to be.

“We can’t focus on worrying, we need to take action,” said Machado, who has relatives who live on the island, explaining that many people, including herself, have not yet heard from their families because of limited communication.

As she began receiving more donations, the cultural center, located at 788 East Seventh St. in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, established itself as a drop-off point.

 

‘We’re filling a plane and sending it to Puerto Rico’

As the donation pile grew, so did the coalition of Puerto Rican Minnesotans. Lawyers, teachers, professors, Puerto Ricans of all professions, were connecting to see how they could share their knowledge to help family on the island.

A friend of Machado’s, a lawyer named Anastacia Belladonna-Carrera, worked with Delta Air Lines for a week and was finally able to lock-down a free airplane Sept. 29, to be sent to Puerto Rico less than a week later.

Belladonna-Carrera and others used radio stations and journalists in Puerto Rico to identify people on the island who could help distribute the donations once they arrived.

“I said ‘Hell yes, we’re filling a plane and sending it to Puerto Rico!’” Machado remembered.

The coalition rushed to get enough supplies to fill the airplane, with some skeptical they would be able to fill it, but Machado said she was confident.

“I knew my crew — my people — would come and make this happen,” she said. 

A steady stream of volunteers and donations came through the doors at Indigenous Roots Oct. 3, filling its warehouse with bottled water, food, baby formula, diapers, sunscreen and pet food. El Colegio charter school in Minneapolis also served as a drop-off site.

Machado greeted everyone coming in and thanked them.

She said seeing all the humanity coming through the door, people either donating or volunteering their time, “is what Indigenous Roots is all about.”

 

The work isn’t done

Machado said she wants to be clear that she can’t take credit for the relief effort, though many of the volunteers who came by to speak to her during the flurry of activity Oct. 3 said none of it would have happened without her taking the initiative.

“No one would have done this without you starting it,” said one volunteer to Machado.

“I’ve never lead or organized anything like this,” she said, explaining she isn’t a “type-A” kind of person. “It’s like a whole other beast.”

She’s had a lot of help, Machado said, joking around with her friend Rose Davila about making her the “project manager” because of her organizational skills.

Machado said the creation of the coalition of Puerto Rican Minnesotans was natural — people just started offering their knowledge when they saw the destruction of the island. 

After the exhaustive process of getting the first wave of donations to the island, Machado said the coalition will step back for a minute to figure out what needs to happen next.

Currently, civilians are not being allowed onto the island and difficulties with communication within Puerto Rico’s government have made it difficult to line up donations on the island.

It is unknown when civilians will be allowed in or how the recovery process will work, but Machado said the coalition will be making plans for many years out, as it will take years for the island to recover.

Machado said the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center will continue to be a drop-off site for more donations, but it is unknown when they will be able to sent to Puerto Rico. 

For those who want to help either with donations or services, contact Aiyana Machado at 612-702-9058.

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto



 

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