During the week of Oct. 16-20, the school held a collaborative effort called, “PCH Unidos por Puerto Rico” [PCH United for Puerto Rico.] In the span of one school week, about 7,500 pounds of food, water and other supplies were collected for immediate send-off. The pick-up of the items from the school took place on Nov. 1, and the items will be shipped to Puerto Rico on Friday, Nov. 3.
School entities, such as Project Help, Parkway Central High Players, International Club, ESOL classes and Spanish classes, collaborated to organize the relief efforts in the response to the devastating effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria, the latter regarded as the worst documented natural disaster in Dominica.
Parkway Central High has several Puerto Rican students and staff members, some of whom are in contact with friends and family in the affected area.
“When I heard about what was going on in Puerto Rico, my heart sank to my feet,” freshman Diego Cruz said. Cruz lives in the local area with his mother, and the rest of his family lives in Puerto Rico.
“I’m not just donating to Puerto Rico, I’m donating to my family, too,” Cruz said. “When my family called for the first time, they said they didn’t have light, they didn’t have energy or clean water.”
Staff members also bonded over the idea of a fundraiser for the area.
“I had a friend living in Puerto Rico, and she has a 9-month-old daughter, who is the same age as my own [child],” Spanish teacher Christy Keating said. “I felt like there was this connection from one mother to another. I can’t imagine going through that without things like diapers, formula and other essentials.”
It was from concern such as Keating’s and Cruz’s that the idea for “PCH Unidos por Puerto Rico” was born.
“Three weeks ago, the Spanish teachers and other international club members reached out to us and said that Hurricane Maria had devastating effects on Puerto Rico, and we needed to do something about it,” Vivian Lacson, sophomore and Project Help co-secretary, said.
Organizations like Project Help had representatives set up a table during each lunch period to collect cash and other donations from students during the collection week. According to Lacson, almost $800 in donations was collected just in one day.
Joe Bradley, an orchestra teacher actively communicating with loved ones in Puerto Rico, suggested the school collect non-perishable food items, bottled water, cash and batteries to donate to the recovery effort.
“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico,” said Bradley, who has “many family members” that are “actually there.”
A friend of Bradley’s directed him to a Facebook video that showed retired U.S. soldiers, led by Cavalry Scout Jason Maddy, who were helping with relief efforts in the more secluded areas of Puerto Rico.
“The video caught my attention because they were in Mayagüez, which is my town,” Bradley said. “They knew there were a lot of people in trouble and that they were completely disconnected. So they started to go toward the mountains to find people that were completely disconnected from others. So far, to this day, they’re still down there.”
The drive collected about 4,201 pounds of water, 3,068.7 pounds of boxed food and supplies, 115.2 pounds of dog food, 233 pounds of baby formula, 43 pounds of Gatorade and 18 pounds of water filters. Another $1,550.46 was collected in monetary donations and used to purchase additional water filters.
Theater teacher Nicole Voss organized the transportation of the goods with Air, Land & Sea Express, a freight forwarding service out of Maryland Heights. Participating students spent additional time moving the resources from the high school to the district’s facilities building on Nov.1, where the items were placed on pallets and shrink-wrapped up for a final pick-up on Nov. 3.
The goods will be transported to Jacksonville, Florida, and loaded onto a container ship en route to Mayagüez, Puerto Rico’s eighth-largest municipality.
The hope is that the supplies will arrive in time for Thanksgiving.
“It’s today for them, and it could be tomorrow for us,” Bradley said. “We have disasters from weather like tornadoes, and there will always be more people in need down the road. It’s important to learn about this because we need to take care of each other.”
Participating students hope that other school districts will host similar drives.
“Everything is step-by-step, not jump-by-jump,” Cruz said. “It’s a lot of small steps, and events like this can really help Puerto Rico take those steps.”
The Greater St. Louis Business Aviation Association and Wings of Hope are currently raising money to cover all the shipping costs. Donations can be made at wingsofhope.ngo/puerto-rico-relief