Ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Published 7:41 pm Friday, October 6, 2017

In my six years at the Washington Daily News, this is the first time I’ve written a column for the paper. What pushed me to do so is a subject very dear to me.

Most here don’t know that I lived in Puerto Rico for four years. My father, Stewart Rumley, was in the U.S. Coast Guard, and our family was transferred to the island when I was 14 years old. I spent all of high school in Puerto Rico and graduated from Ramey High School on the then-scaled down Ramey Air Force Base outside of Aguadilla.

The name of the town, Aguadilla, may be familiar because it has been in the news. It’s on the western side of Puerto Rico, an area hard hit by Hurricane Maria. More than two weeks later, there is no running water. There is no electricity, and there likely won’t be for months. The situation is absolutely dire. People are struggling to survive. I don’t write this lightly, and I only write it because I have been in (sporadic) contact with friends who live there, and other friends in the states who (also sporadically) are hearing from relatives on the island, and know what is actually happening.

“Being on the ground in Aguadilla was pretty emotional. There are people who are sick. There are people who are hungry. There are people who are thirsty … but there are also people who are working together as a community to do what they can to help each other. Streets of people working together to clean up neighbors’ yards … cut down trees together … and share meals and drinks together in the evening.”

When I read this, I decided to reach out to the Daily News’ readership. It was written Thursday by my friend, Lara Richardson. Lara and I met in Girl Scouts in Mobile, Alabama, when we were 8 years old. Her father was also a Coastie, and the Richardsons moved to Puerto Rico the year before the Rumleys did. Lara, like me, has a deep attachment to this beautiful island.

Lara, and another high school friend, Shirley Torres, are two of the people behind Operation Puerto Rico Care-Lift. It began with an email two weeks ago, just two days after the Category 5 Maria hit PR. Lara, in Los Angeles, and Shirley, in Orlando, decided to do something to help, and what they have done is nothing short of astounding. They teamed up with others of like mind; they contacted potential sponsors; they started a GoFundMe account with a modest goal of $10,000. One of the sponsors was, and is, Spirit Airlines.

Late last week, this ad hoc group from across the U.S. flew 12,000 pounds of supplies into Aguadilla, an airport that has not reopened to commercial traffic — this, courtesy of another partner on the ground there, Lufthansa Technik. On the return flight to Fort Lauderdale, they took with them 220 passengers desperate to get off the island, free of charge. Since, they have made three more trips; on the third, they hired a medical team to escort passengers back to the states because many were elderly; 50 were in wheelchairs.

I personally know some of the people who were on those flights. I also personally know some ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things to help fellow Americans in need. Lara, Shirley and the rest of the Operation Puerto Rico Care-Lift team have raised more than $120,000 through the GoFundMe account; more through the Amazon wish list they set up. They are on the ground and in the air, and committed to continuing their relief effort for as long as it takes.

Some have asked me how to help people in Puerto Rico. This is how you can help: go to Operation Puerto Rico-Care Lift’s Facebook page and see for yourself how these people, private citizens, my friends, are getting supplies to those who so desperately need them. Then donate: $5, $10, $1,000. It doesn’t matter how much. Every little bit matters and is appreciated, as told by this Facebook post from another high school friend in Aguadilla, Ricky Robles, on Tuesday:

“I have limited internet. I hope you get my message I give my heart out to everyone that is helping us on our island and I will do everything I can to help you guys help us. I have no words but tears in my eyes that say thank you we love you all…”

To donate to Operation Puerto Rico Care-Lift, visit www.gofundme.com/operationprcarelift.