Palm Beach County coalition organizes to help post-Maria Puerto Rico


Palm Beach County Cares, a coalition of non-profit groups, businesses and individuals, announced a series of initiatives Wednesday aimed at providing assistance to the people of Puerto Rico.

The group is attempting to raise $5 million in five weeks and has coordinated with Palm Beach County to establish drop-off points for the laundry list of items Puerto Ricans need in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island three weeks ago, destroying its power grid, washing out roads and leaving residents without electricity, food and medicine.

Coalition members described the unfolding humanitarian crisis on Puerto Rico and said Palm Beach County residents are looking for ways to help.

“If not us, then who?” Chris McDermott, co-founder of Florida Community Bank, asked other coalition members during a press conference at the Port of Palm Beach Wednesday. “We are here for such a time as this.”

McDermott is spearheading the fund-raising effort.

Hans Hertell, a Puerto Rican native who served as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic during the George W. Bush administration, said the situation on the island is desperate.

“In my life, I’ve seen a couple hurricanes,” Hertell said, “but I’ve never seen anything like this.”

What little electricity that had been re-established went back out over the weekend, when thunderstorms moved over the island.

Some elected officials in the continental U.S. and the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, have complained about the federal response to Maria and criticized President Donald Trump’s visit to the island last week as a non-empathetic excursion to an island of American citizens desperate for help. He noted the number of dead — 17 at the time — and said that Puerto Rico was fortunate not to have suffered “a real catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina.”

But Hertell said such criticism misses the mark.

“Regardless of what you see in the media, he’s done a great job,” Hertell said of Trump. “You might disagree with his style here or there.”

Founded by Port Commissioner Katherine Waldron and former County Commissioner Karen Marcus, Palm Beach County Cares has billed itself as a non-partisan group with a single goal in mind — providing assistance to Americans devastated by the storms that struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A long list of companies and organizations, including Gulfstream Goodwill Industries, United Way of Palm Beach County and the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Palm Beach County, have signed on to help.

“The list of supporters is literally growing every day,” Waldron said.



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