Flyers Make Hurricane Relief a Personal Mission

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by Lisa Cooper

Loyola Flyers strive each year to fulfill the charge to be men and women for others.  One of the most significant efforts toward this end is the hurricane relief sent to Catholic schools and dioceses most affected by these storms’ destruction. But this year’s efforts hit home in a tangible way as one of their own was directly affected by Hurricane Maria, which swept across Puerto Rico.

Spanish teacher and Puerto Rican native Arelis Soberal’s family lives in Puerto Rico. When Maria hit, Flyers went into action raising money and gathering gift cards to help Soberal’s family and others ravaged by the storm get the supplies they need.

Stephanie Johnson, Academic Assistant Principal, said “I think I can speak for the faculty as well as myself when I say that all of the relief efforts at Loyola have been important to me, but having such a close proximity to someone directly affected by this tragedy has really made it something we all take more personally.”

This year Loyola is working directly with Soberal’s family and others in order to get them the help they need. Hearing Soberal’s accounts of what is happening to her family and to others as they try to recover from the devastation of Maria has helped everyone in the Loyola family connect on a much more personal level with the suffering of others.

Conditions in Puerto Rico have made getting relief to those in need very difficult. Soberal explained that roads and bridges have been washed away by the storm, leaving many to travel by boat. Even in places where the roads are passable, food, water and gas are scarce, and help is not reaching people fast enough. Eighty-five percent of the island is without power, so supermarkets where food and water were once readily accessible are now closed.
Soberal said even the small things we take for granted become major obstacles as “ATM’s and banks are closed, so people have no access to their money in order to purchase supplies from the few stores that are open.”  Because many gas pumps are not working, gas has become scare as well. “People are waiting in lines for hours to get the limit of $15 worth of gas,” said Soberal.

Health care is suffering as well. “Without power, medicine that needs to be refrigerated can’t be, ventilators can’t work and pharmacies can’t distribute medicine,” explained Soberal.

“We heard on the Puerto Rican news that one hospital on the west coast had to be evacuated because the stench from the morgue was starting to move into the hospital, and a children’s hospital was about to run out of gas for the generators and couldn’t get more,” she said.

She went on to explain that those living in metropolitan areas are receiving more help than those in the outlying areas of the island. “The island is in bankruptcy,” says Soberal, “with a government that has never seen or prepared for a storm of this magnitude—and no logistics in place to tackle the resulting situations. The first response was chaotic—rescuers just trying to save lives in the areas that were flooded. Then came the realization that you can’t move things when your truck drivers can’t get to the port of San Juan. It’s been a mess.”

Although being separated from their families has been hard on Soberal and her husband, she has been greatly moved by the love and compassion her Loyola family has extended to her. “I can’t express my feelings,” she says, “I never thought the school would do something like this… it means so much to me.”

When Soberal was asked about the morale of her family under such trying conditions, she pointed to what she loves most about her culture: “Puerto Ricans can find the good in any situation. Yes, we are out of food and water, but neighbors are sharing. Yes, we do not have electricity, but now children are in the streets playing, running and getting to know each other. In reality, neither my family nor any Puerto Rican family will tell their loved ones in the States the real situation. They will always say, ‘We are okay. Do not worry. We got it!’ They are a group of people who trust in God and have their faith to get them through.

Soberal did make one simple request: “Please continue to pray for the people of Puerto Rico and for those of us who are an ocean away. Maria not only destroyed the physical land of Puerto Rico, but also it destroyed the hearts of five million Puerto Ricans who live throughout the world.”

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