Claudia Lopez sits by herself at a table outside the Commons collecting donations for U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico whose lives have been devastated by Hurricane Maria.
Lopez, a Puerto Rican senior majoring in biology and psychology, initiated her fundraiser, Project PRdise, to aid the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.
Part of Project PRdise is a GoFundMe page, which is currently a trending fundraiser. Over the span of 17 days, Lopez has raised $7,881 of her $10,000 goal. 65 people have donated through the GoFundMe site with the highest single donation at $1000. Once she reaches her goal, she plans to raise the target amount even higher.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Sept. 20 as a category five storm. As of Oct. 8, the death toll from Maria is at 36, but Puerto Rican authorities speculate the final number could be significantly higher.
Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Lopez decided to start the fundraiser in order to help alleviate the hurricane-related hardships of her family, friends and fellow Puerto Ricans.
Talking to her family and watching the news, Lopez was shocked and heartbroken by the complete destruction of her island. “I felt useless … I never thought this could happen to my home,” she said.
Some of Lopez’s maternal family lives in Humacao, the region in which the hurricane made landfall. No one was able to contact them for five days. The ocean had risen right into the neighborhoods and the 175 miles per hour winds had done significant damage to the entire infrastructure of the island.
One of Lopez’s brother goes to the University of Puerto Rico located in San Juan, the capital, but since the hurricane destroyed majority of the buildings on campus, the university has been shut down indefinitely.
Authorities expect the power grids to be down for months, leaving all the residents to rely on $10 per day worth of diesel to run their generators – should they own one.
Most of the coastal regions are completely demolished and it is nearly impossible to get cars through the roads, which also limits the amount of aid and resources that can reach these devastated areas.
Lopez vocalizes the frustration and fear of many Puerto Ricans. “San Juan may be getting help, but other parts of Puerto Rico still have no power, no food, no water,” she explained. “They are thirsty, they are hungry, they are dying … people are writing their names on their chests and on their backs because they don’t know if they are going to survive and they don’t have any form of identification.”
Hospitals are facing significant obstacles in remaining open. Consequently, Lopez has decided to send her funds to San Jorge’s Children Foundation, a non-profit children’s cancer hospital which is currently providing medical services to pediatric patients from Puerto Rico and nearby islands affected by Hurricane Maria and Irma.
Lopez adds, “Hospitals cannot function without diesel and people here aren’t aware that they need diesel for the machines to run, and as a result, people aren’t getting the treatment they need.”
The UMBC community alone has donated $880 so far which Lopez has collected while sitting at her fundraising table outside either the Administration Building, the RAC, or the Commons every day for the past 2 weeks from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
But she took it one step further.
“I emailed President Hrabowski about [the fundraiser] because he is a well-known man with a lot of connections, and he came down and talked to me,” said Lopez. “He was really proud that someone was doing something about it and then he donated.” Hrabowski donated $100 through the GoFundMe page.
Lopez has also been collecting supplies to send over to Puerto Rico. She has donation boxes located in the lobby of the RAC. The biggest problem Lopez faces is trying to find affordable shipping options for the items she has collected and she hopes UMBC will help cover the costs.
As of Sept. 29, Lopez has sent two big boxes of donated items to her friend, a Towson University volleyball player leading her own relief effort. TU is then paying to send those supplies to Puerto Rico.
Lopez also expressed her frustration in regards to interacting with students who are unaware of the catastrophe affecting Puerto Rico. “A guy walked by my table and asked me, ‘What are you raising money for?’ I said, ‘Puerto Rico’ and he was like, ‘Oh what happened?’ I said, ‘A hurricane’ and he said, ‘Oh cool.’”
Lopez emphasizes the necessity of raising awareness about this crisis and believes that the people in the contiguous United States could significantly influence the amount of attention and aid that Puerto Rico receives.
“Many people have asked me when am I going to stop, but I don’t want to stop because this is not a day’s work or a week’s work or even a month’s work. I will always do what I can to help my island in any way possible.”