Locals prepare relief for Puerto Rico

BELLEVILLE

Local volunteers are organizing a collection drive to help victims of the catastrophic storms that have left much of Puerto Rico without water, food and power.

“In a goodwill effort to help and support the families of Puerto Rico, whose lives have been affected due to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, we have joined forces to organize a benefit in Belleville,” says a flier circulating within the township.

Spearheading the campaign are Carlos Marzan, who runs an accounting/tax prep business on Joralemon Ave.; former Belleville resident Freddy Calvache; Tom Grolimond, a member of the Belleville school board; Councilman Kevin Kennedy; and Billy Coutts, who printed the fliers.

Members of the public are invited to bring emergency and construction supplies while will be shipped to the stricken island to the Belleville American Legion Post 105, 621 Washington Ave., on Oct. 20, between 4 and 10 p.m.

A 20-foot container with chassis furnished by Trademark Waste Solutions of Nutley will be placed on site and donations will be loaded inside.

Refreshments and entertainment will be provided.

The supplies will be driven to Newark Airport and flown to the island for distribution. Marzan told The Observer he plans to fly to the island where, with the help of a distributor tracking the shipment, “I’ll make sure it gets to the people who need it.”

It would be premature to send out anything now, Marzan said last Thursday, because the island infrastructure isn’t yet fully capable of transporting supplies throughout the island, particularly the more remote areas.

“There are 3,000 containers sitting in the port [at San Juan] now and another thousand were on the way, so it doesn’t make sense for us to be sending stuff now because it’s just going to sit there,” he said.

An island-wide recovery effort figures to take many months, officials have estimated.

“This is the first time I’m doing something of this magnitude,” Marzan said.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Marzan recalled that he was 18 when Hurricane Hugo hit the island in 1989 and “I thought the end of the world had come. We had winds of 90 miles an hour.”  

But this year, first there was Irma in early September a Category 5 hurricane with winds exceeding 156 miles an hour that blew by just north of the island, knocking out power for an estimated 1 million residents.

And then, on Sept. 20, Maria struck, a Category 4 storm sweeping through the mainland at wind speeds upwards of 130 mph, causing widespread devastation, uprooting trees and houses, taking down power lines and sources of potable water and ruining crops. (It, too, at one point, had been a Category 5 before reaching Puerto Rico.)

“The damage is beyond what anybody can imagine,” he said.

And it’s very personal for Marzan.

“My family is stranded there,” he said. “My parents live on the 12th floor of a building in Isla Verde, outside San Juan, and their windows were blown out but they’re okay. I’ve purchased airline tickets to get them here when a flight is available.”

His sister and nephew are also there and they, too, are safe, he said.

“I know a lot of my friends on the island have lost everything,” Marzan added.

Calvache, a Belleville High alum and athlete who helped sponsor the first local Ecuadorian flag-raising three years ago to commemorate that country’s independence anniversary, and a similar ceremony last year honoring Puerto Rico, also has a personal stake in the collection drive.

“My aunt and uncle who live there lost their home in Aguadilla,” he said, “but they are safe, staying for now in a church.”

Here’s a list of emergency supplies requested as donations: bottled water, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, diapers, canned foods, dry foods, baby formula, garbage bags, towels, canned milk, canned and dry pet food, baby and adult pain relief medicine, stomach and diarrhea relief medicine, mosquito repellant, blankets, pillows, first-aid kits, laundry detergents, dish soap, cots and clothing.

Construction supplies are also welcome. These include: extension cords, ground fault protectors, pop-up canopies, shovels, crowbars, hammers, utility knives, work gloves, wood panels, electric generators, electric cables, tarps, ropes, chainsaws and safety glasses.

People are asked to pack all donations in containers for easier shipment.

For more information, call Marzan at 973-715-5514 or Grolimond at 973-460-7891.

Editor’s note: If you know of any other relief efforts for Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida or elsewhere, let us know by sending an email to editorial@theobserver.com

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.