A Local’s Advice: How to Help Puerto Rico


Over the course of two weeks in September, Hurricane Irma and Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico. Both storms knocked over power lines and uprooted trees, leaving close to 85% of the island without electricity and many communities isolated by blocked roads and limited cell phone reception (CNN). Local officials predict it will take months to restore power to the island, and limited supplies of drinkable water raise concerns about the health and hygiene of families (Washington Post). Another casualty of the two hurricanes: El Yunque Rain Forest. Home to “over 240 species of trees; 23 of those are found nowhere else” and “over 50 bird species,”  the rainforest is a huge source of pride, beauty, and biodiversity for the island (NY Times). Local organizations and international relief groups are working to find the best ways to assist the people, animals, and ecosystems on the island.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged Puerto Rican rainforests.

Hurricanes Maria and Irma ravaged Puerto Rican rainforests.

The Roots & Shoots “family” is truly global and many of us are already mobilizing to help. We asked Claudia, a member of the Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council from Dorado, Puerto Rico to help us understand how we can have the most positive impact. What is the best thing we can do to help?

Claudia B_0Although donations of supplies are much needed, they are harder to transport and take longer to distribute, with damage to roads across the island. Claudia encourages people to donate money to trusted organizations and foundations, providing the necessary funding to buy the most crucial supplies. Below is Claudia’s list of trusted organizations and how they are providing disaster relief:

  • United for Puerto Rico: an initiative brought forth by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, in collaboration with the private sector, to provide aid and support to those in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane María. 100% of the proceeds will go to helping the victims affected by these natural disasters.
  • The Ricky Martin Foundation team organized a crowdfunding page to assist its members on the ground already working with the local government, local volunteers, and the First Lady of Puerto Rico to provide urgently needed food, water, clothing and medical supplies.
  • National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD): primary point of contact for voluntary organization in the National Response Coordination Center (at FEMA headquarters), also coordinating transportation of donations
  • UNICEF USA is mobilizing to get immediate, critical support — Emergency Relief Kits — to the children of Puerto Rico. The kits include basic, essential supplies such as water purification tablets, a water bucket with lid, water containers, soap, toothpaste, detergent, and sanitary pads.
  • Wings of Rescue: donation-based charity that flies large numbers of at-risk, healthy pets long distances from high intake shelters to their network of no-kill shelters throughout the United States and Canada.  Wings of Rescue has already flown over 400 cats and dogs to safety from Puerto Rico and also delivered over 7 tons of humanitarian aid.
  • Puerto Rico Community Foundation: a fund manager for individuals, families, non-profit organizations, and corporations in Puerto Rico. They are currently focusing on hurricane relief.
  • Hispanics in Philanthropy: Funds donated will go directly to nonprofits working on the ground, such as Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico and Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico.
  • UNIDOS Disaster Relief & Recovery Program: created by the Hispanic Federation to meet hurricane-related needs and recovery in Puerto Rico. One hundred percent of contributions to the UNIDOS Fund goes to help the immediate and long-term recovery needs of children, families, and communities in distress from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.

With limited resources and damage to infrastructure, Puerto Rico is not ready for the outpouring of support from volunteers hoping to help. Claudia explained that until the island becomes more stable, volunteers are asked to standby. People who sign up will be contacted as soon as it is safe and viable for them to help. (To sign up to volunteer, click here.)

Over time, the news of Puerto Rico may be overshadowed by other natural disasters or world problems, threatening the consistent support and donations necessary for the island to achieve long-term recovery. Show your support by sharing news and updates about the situation in Puerto Rico to give inhabitants a chance to rebuild their home.

Beach cleanup after Puerto Rico hurricane.

About Author

Riley Lindheimer is currently an intern for the Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots. She is finishing up her last year as an undergraduate at UCSB double majoring in Communication and Global Studies. While at UCSB, she has been inspired to work in areas of social justice, including how to improve national and regional policies that provide assistance to refugees. Volunteering from a young age for organizations that assist disadvantaged communities, Riley knew that she wanted to help people all over the world who are struggling. With its strong ties to the founding of Earth Day and its close proximity to the beach, living in Santa Barbara has taught Riley how individuals play a crucial role in protecting animals and the environment. She has expanded her career goals to include working on campaigns that impact the people, animals and environment that make up our beautiful planet!