Gov. Gary Herbert says Utah has plenty of what still-hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico needs — so he called on residents Monday to help generously, and he will send Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox there soon to deliver what he hopes will be a bounty of supplies.
“We lead the nation when it comes to volunteer work. We lead the nation when it comes to giving,” Herbert said. “We have fellow Americans in Puerto Rico who are hurting and need help.”
He called a news conference to urge Utahns to donate to Tifie Humanitarian, a charity acting as an umbrella for a variety of Utah groups working to help the island. It says 100 percent of Utahns’ donations will be spent on needed supplies. Many area companies have pledged to help deliver them.
Herbert said his son Brad, who served a Mormon mission in Puerto Rico, and Cox will lead 40 or so workers next month to deliver the supplies, especially Utah-made solar power equipment from Goal Zero that may help bring light to areas that have had no electricity for 41 days since Hurricane Maria.
“Seventy percent are still in the dark,” said Carilu Alvarado, a native Puerto Rican who now lives in Utah. Alvarado has just returned from delivering a first round of Utah-donated supplies to the island.
“People there tell us that they don’t like 6 p.m.,” she said. “As soon as 6 p.m. hits, the island is so dark.... We are here so that we can help get them that light.” She is part of a group called Light Up Puerto Rico that is working to deliver such units.
“When the power gets turned on in their house, they take these [solar-power units] to someone who doesn’t have power,” Cox said. “That’s helping one family at a time. We can make this work and make it happen. But we can’t do it without your help.”
Alvarado said that last week, as 150 Utahns provided solar equipment and other needed supplies, she was impressed that even though people are suffering, they are smiling and worrying more about their neighbors than themselves.
“When we went to a house and took supplies, they were like, ‘Well, just leave me half of that because my neighbor needs it more,’” she said. “They are working. They are doing anything they can to rebuild.”
But they still need help.
Brad Herbert, the governor’s son, said after disasters, a big wave of relief comes initially — “and then everybody leaves…. In Puerto Rico, they are months and maybe years away from recovering from this disaster. Our goal is to have a sustainable effort, to send multiple waves of volunteers to go out and make a big difference.”
Robert Workman, with Tifie Humanitarian, said, “We’re not a love-them-and-leave-them effort. We’re going to be there. We’re going to continue to help these good people, our fellow citizens of America, to get back on their feet. We’re going to help them with the tools they need to help themselves.”
Cox said that while Puerto Rico may appear far from Utah, the two have many important ties — with Puerto Ricans living here, many Mormon missionaries who served there and Utahns who do business or vacation there.
With those ties, he said, the governor “kept saying, ‘I think we can do more. We need to do more.’” So Cox — who speaks Spanish learned on an LDS mission to Mexico — and Brad Herbert agreed to lead a next wave of workers to distribute Utah-donated supplies, with a focus on temporary shelters and rebuilding roofs, beyond the mobile solar-power equipment.
Brad Herbert said Utahns have donated about $300,000 to Tifie Humanitarian so far, but more is needed. Cox added he and other workers are paying their own travel to the island, with help from JetBlue, so all donations go to supplies.
The governor said Utah is in a solid position to help the island. “We have a very healthy economy. We’ve been blessed. We have surplus…. I think we in Utah can make a significant difference for the people in Puerto Rico.”