Luis Morales, Disaster Coordinator for the South Georgia Conference, has traveled to his native Puerto Rico four times since Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September.
Serving as a consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) since October, Morales has helped the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico devise a relief strategy and recovery plan.
To date, more than 11,000 bags of food and 48,960 bottles water have been distributed, helping more than 27,000 people. Five locations serve up to 230 hot meals daily, and more than 25,000 meals have been served. Basic needs are being met by the 32,000 hygiene kits; 3,000 feminine kits; 11,000 school kits; 3,000 mosquito repellents; and hundreds of solar lamps, solar chargers, solar radios, clothes, batteries, and other basic necessities that have been distributed.
“Churches have been the ones reaching the people,” Morales said. “The state agencies and the federal government were slow to start, so the churches have been the key to the relief effort.”
Some towns and communities haven’t yet been reached by the government, he said, and many are still without power some four months later. The island’s infrastructure is still heavily damaged and utilities are unreliable, and it will take years, according to Morales, for a sense of normalcy to return.
Safe, secure housing is the biggest need, Morales said, and Early Response Teams are now being invited and received to help rebuild.
United Methodist case managers are also beginning to work with homeowners to rebuild their homes and lives. UMCOR, known for case management, has trained 10 case managers and dispatched them to 10 locations to work with families.
“It’s not just reconstruction of the structure,” Morales said of the work case managers do with families. “It’s really rebuilding the entire household back to working condition.”
While in Puerto Rico Morales also taught four Early Response Team training classes and anticipates teaching two more. By spring he hopes to train several ERT-certified Puerto Ricans so they can then become instructors. Morales also translated the ERT English manual into Spanish.
Puerto Rico has a plan for the future and is executing it, Morales said, but it will take years to rebuild what was destroyed.
Morales asks South Georgia United Methodists to remember Puerto Ricans in their prayers.
“Pray,” he said. “The hope that people have is because of prayers and their faith. Continue praying. Don’t forget them. Our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean are still suffering.”
Interested in helping or serving? Visit www.sgaumc.org/disasterresponse or email Luis Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org.