Helping Hands: Pulse survivors, families join LGBTQ groups and politicians to send support, supplies to Puerto Rico

By : Jeremy Williams
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ORLANDO | As the sun was coming up on the east coast of the United States Sept. 30, the responses by the president in Washington, D.C., and the people of Orlando to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on the island of Puerto Rico could not have been more different.

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” the commander-in-chief tweeted. ”Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

While Trump was tweeting, the organization CASA (Coordinadora de Apoyo, Solidaridad y Ayuda) was coordinating with local LGBTQ groups and political leaders to gather supplies for the people of Puerto Rico at the Acacia Network – Centro Borinqueño on Econlockhatchee Trail in Orlando.

State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith helped to gather Pulse survivors, families and members of the entire Pulse-affected community for help with the event, #OrlandoUnited for Puerto Rico.

“The whole inspiration behind this event was to get a group of Pulse survivors, Pulse moms and first responders together to send Puerto Rico a message that we are still there for them,” Smith says. “Orlando grieved with Puerto Rico last year after Pulse, and since then our community has had a very special bond with the island.”

Smith was joined by many other Florida politicians including Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, State Rep. Victor Torres, State Rep. Amy Mercado and State Rep. John Cortes, just to name a few. Also there were community leaders from the GLBT Center of Central Florida and Equality Florida.

“This is our way of paying it forward and standing in solidarity with them at the moment when they need it the most, and the response has been incredible,” Smith says.

The event, which started at noon and lasted until 7:00 p.m., saw hundreds of cars make their way to the drop-off point bringing everything from bottled water and canned foods to diapers and cleaning supplies.

“People are bringing toiletries. They are bringing food, diapers, flashlights and batteries. Things folks take for granted here,” says Equality Florida’s Senior Policy Director Hannah Willard. “People here just went through Hurricane Irma so we know the drill, we know what needs to be prepped and ready, and the folks in Puerto Rico are in need of our tangible support more than ever.”

More than a hundred pallets of bottle water covered the parking lot, with hundreds more boxes sprawled out along the lawn behind the community center. Dozens of volunteers sorted the supplies, inside and out of the center, including Murphy and Willard who were seen side-by-side with the volunteers sorting and organizing. The Center’s communications director Terry DeCarlo spent several hours directing the traffic pouring into the parking lot and helping empty the cars.

“#OrlandoUnited for Puerto Rico has become a local movement of people who want to do something to help the humanitarian crisis on the island. I couldn’t be more proud of the character of our city and our community at this time,” Smith says.

Pulse survivor Angel Colon is Puerto Rican and has family and friends still living on the island. He was in attendance at the event and was moved by the response from the people of Orlando.

“This reminds me of all the love and support that we got after everything that happened on June 12,” Colon says. “Our family, our friends, they need all the help we can get to them.”

Most volunteers were not trying to give the president or his tweets any attention. The focus needed to be on the people of Puerto Rico. Smith took just a moment to comment about Trump’s tweets and to offer a message to those who were upset and offended by the comments.

“Unfortunately the President of the United States does not speak for the American people anymore. [Trump’s] message was so insensitive, tone deaf and quite frankly disgusting,” Smith says. “What my message is right now is to folks who are on their computers, reading the president’s tweets, if they are angry about his treatment of Puerto Ricans come out and volunteer. Come out and donate supplies, that is how we continue to resist. By helping others and by sending love.”

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