U.Va. students mobilize to aid hurricane victims in Puerto Rico

Nearly $1,000 has been raised this week

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Students have organized a group called "Hoos for Puerto Rico" to support Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Last Wednesday, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico — the island of 3.4 million U.S. citizens. University students have organized this week to raise money for victims in Puerto Rico where the Category 4 storm left residents without electricity or sufficient food and water.

Hurricane Irma — a Category 5 storm — reached the northern part of the island Sept. 7, leaving one million Puerto Rican residents without power before Hurricane Maria hit barely two weeks later.

Hurricane Maria has killed at least 16 people so far, and the country is experiencing unprecedented damage, according to FEMA Director Brock Long.

Earlier in the week, Hannah Borja and Catherine Toro, third-year and fourth-year College students, respectively, created a group message of Puerto Rican students and allies. Students in the group message decided to form Hoos For Puerto Rico and mobilized to fundraise across Grounds this week for hurricane victims. 

As of Wednesday night, students and professors have donated $979 — nearly 20 percent of Hoos For Puerto Rico’s goal of raising $5,000. Hoos For Puerto Rico has not yet decided which organization they will donate to. 

“We just wanted to more immediately start organizing and get the ball rolling and start raising money as soon as we could,” Toro said.

Borja said the future of the Hoos For Puerto Rico is uncertain as the group’s main priority is to raise money for the victims who urgently need it.

"I haven't thought too much about what the future of #HoosForPuertoRico looks like, nor have I discussed it with the group at large,” Borja said in an email statement. “Our main focus right now is raising as much money as we can because our people are at risk."

Third-year College student Victor Rodriguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico and said he has been personally affected by the destruction from Hurricane Maria.

“[My family] is kind of in panic, they’re trying to leave, but the airport’s also closed so there’s no flights coming in or out,” Rodriguez said. “The supermarkets are only letting five people come in at the same time or else there’s looters everywhere. It’s pretty unsafe.”

Rodriguez said he and other students he is working with plan to reach out to Hoos For Puerto Rico to help with this initiative.

In addition to raising money for the hurricane victims, Hoos For Puerto Rico has become a support network for students at the University who have been affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“The Hoos4PR GroupMe has been really amazing. At one point, we were just reminiscing about Puerto Rican food,” Toro said. “It’s become a support network, and a way we can express how we’re feeling and give updates on our families, so that’s been a really positive thing to come out of it.” 

Toro said she would like to see the University administration make a statement on the hurricane and offer resources for those whose family and friends were victims of the storm. 

“I know a lot of kids are suffering from anxiety and bouts of depression because there are students who can’t contact any of their family at all,” Toro said. “It’s a lot to have to handle as a student, and so I think it would be really nice if President [Teresa] Sullivan or Student Council could just … Release some sort of statement.” 

Luis Fortuño, a first-year Law student and son of former Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuño, said he wants to see a response similar to those in recent hurricane devastations in Texas and Florida since Puerto Ricans received U.S. citizenship in 1917 under then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson.

“As long as they treat the victims in Puerto Rico as well as they treated the victims in Texas and in Florida, that’s all I ask,” Fortuño said. “I ask that everyone treat us as U.S. citizens.”

Borja cited the complicated political history between the U.S. and Puerto Rico as a reason for its current situation. Borja and others from Hoos for Puerto Rico gave a presentation about the history of the U.S. and Puerto Rico to Student Council Monday.

“The reason why Puerto Rico was in the condition it was before the hurricane is largely because of the United States’ colonial relationship with it,” Borja said.

Hoos For Puerto Rico has created a Facebook page and is continually raising money through various means.

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