How to help Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico

CASA collects donations in Orange County

ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Floridians are coming together to collect supplies and other donations for the victims of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory's governor said its people need more help.

Although more than a dozen flights out of Orlando to Puerto Rico being canceled throughout the last week has made it difficult to send the supplies, community members haven't stopped trying.

Lake Brantley High School teacher Charlie Negron said his mother and children live in Puerto Rico. 

It was just the other day that he was finally able to hear his mom's voice and know she was safe.

"We talked for five minutes. The call dropped but that's fine," Negron said. 

With tears in his eyes, he said, as of Monday afternoon, he had yet to talk to his kids. 

"This is my stress release. This is my way to say 'Thank you.' Say something. Do something for them. That's pretty much (it)," Negron said. 

His "thank you," he says, is collecting donations at Lake Brantley.

He mentioned the idea to the school's principal, Dr. Trent Daniel, on Friday, and generous donations were already pouring in by Monday morning.

"We sent out a mass call, out to the community and I did it again last night, and we are astounded at how our community responded," Daniel said. 

Through connections, Negron is working with the office of Puerto Rico's first lady and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ship the supplies within the next week. 

Kathleen Bergen, with the Federal Aviation Administration, said going through FEMA is the best route people can take if they plan to fly items to Puerto Rico. 

Bergen says air traffic control is limited, but available through FEMA-organized relief flights. 

There will be no air traffic control for pilots flying to Puerto Rico outside of FEMA operations, and Bergen said that according to FAA, pilots can only fly during daylight hours. 

Bergen also said aircraft fuel may be hard to obtain at uncontrolled airports in Puerto Rico.

Janice Moran, with Central Florida's Red Cross, said her team is waiting to get the "go ahead" to send supplies to Puerto Rico and neighboring islands that were damaged from the storms. 

"Rest assured that the Red Cross is working with local governments and other resources so we can get these items to the people in need by air or by boat, but it's going to take time," Moran said. 

Volunteers with the organization CASA have been organizing collection efforts in Orange County since last week and will continue accepting donations through Sunday.

Donations can be dropped off ACACIA -- Centro Borinqueno located at 1865 N. Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m. each day.

The organization is collecting the following donated items:

  • drinking water
  • disposable diapers
  • personal hygiene
  • tampons
  • sanitary napkins
  • electrical generators
  • canned milk
  • soap
  • toothpaste
  • first aid kits
  • batteries C and D
  • tents/awnings
  • general medicine (aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen)
  • baby diapers
  • adult diapers
  • baby formula
  • non-perishable food
  • blankets
  • construction materials 

Monetary donations are also being accepted in the form of a check.

Money orders and checks made out to CASA can be dropped off at Harbor Bank or mailed to CASA at the following address:

Checks should include the following information:

  • Checking account: 11284650
  • Routing number: 067006775

All donations are tax deductible, CASA officials said. Visit CASA's Facebook page for more information.

Anyone looking for ways to help can contact their local American Red Cross organization or drop off items at the following locations:

OTVA Longwood
1200 Charles St.
Longwood, FL 32750
2 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Friday

OTVA North
522 S. Econ Circle
Oviedo, FL 32765
2 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Friday

OTVA South
6700 Kingspointe Parkway
Orlando, FL 32819
2 p.m. - 8 p.m. Monday-Friday

4045 Forrestal Ave. 
Bay #7
Orlando, FL 32806
8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday

The drop-off sites listed above are collecting the following items:

  • toiletries 
  • toilet paper
  • bottled water
  • dog/cat food
  • rakes/shovels
  • batteries (all sizes)
  • Gatorade
  • diapers
  • over the counter medicine
  • canned good
  • manual can opener
  • ensure
  • hand sanitizer

 More information on flights to Puerto Rico can be found through FEMA and the FAA.

About the Authors: