An Island with a death toll estimated at more than 500. Hundreds of thousands of people without power, safe drinking water, a reliable supply of food and medicine. Homes destroyed by wind and floods and public infrastructure shattered.
The devastation Hurricane Maria inflicted on Puerto Rico is still being assessed, but it’s already one of the worst natural disasters in recent American history.
Behind the drumbeat of shocking statistics are some that are less known or even difficult to tabulate, including what the storm and its aftermath have done to the children of Puerto Rico.
A study done after Hurricane Katrina, directed by Irwin Redlener, head of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and president of the Children’s Health Fund, found that at least one third of children who survived that storm reported mental health problems directly due to the catastrophe.
Recently, Mr. Redlener said that in the case of Hurricane Maria, with families focused on finding basic needs such as food and water, the needs of children, especially when it comes to school — places of healing routines and organization — are overlooked.
Schools are opening, but supplies are in short supply. “There’s going to be a mismatch of resources and need,” Mr. Redlener told USA Today recently.“It’s really important that people go in and help families manage and deal with this massive trauma that has occurred.”
One Shelter Islander has heard the call and decided to help the young students, especially those just starting out in preschool. When she considered the youngster’s plight, “I had to do something,” Linda Bruno said last week on a visit to the Reporter’s office.
The retired educator, who has worked as a teacher, superintendent, administrator and consultant (which led to a nearly four-year stay in China) has organized an effort to get donated supplies to the children of Puerto Rico, especially to those in Headstart programs.
Visiting friends in Florida just after the storm hit, Ms. Bruno contacted the nonprofit Hispanic American Doctors Association of Southwest Florida, which is collecting medical supplies, food and water and flying them to Puerto Rico, where the distribution centers will be churches and Headstart program locations.
The doctors welcomed Ms. Bruno’s idea to add school supplies to the mercy flights.
Ms. Bruno has contacted Jernick Moving and Storage, which, she said, is willing to transport the supplies to Florida free of charge. Ms. Bruno said she will meet the Jernick van there and transport the supplies to the airport.
She’s also enlisted the help of the Shelter Island Library, Town Hall and the IGA, to allow places for collections.
The library has stepped up to do much more, according to Director Terry Lucas.
“We’re happy to be able to help Linda in her efforts to rebuild the Headstart programs in Puerto Rico,” Ms. Lucas said.
Moving the children’s section to the lower level of the library has afforded an opportunity for the staff to review its picture book collection and pulling duplicate books or books that have not been checked out for a number of years, Ms. Lucas said.
“We’re thrilled that these books will go to such a good cause,” she added. “Early childhood literacy is something dear to the hearts of all librarians, and we hope these books will help the children who have experienced devastation caused by the hurricane.”
To help, Ms. Bruno suggests making a tax deductible contribution though the GoFundMe account at gofundme.com/hadacares. The funds, Ms. Bruno said, will be used to purchase needed supplies for children and teachers. Donors can also select materials from Amazon or other online suppliers and send them to the Hispanic American Doctors Association of Southwest Florida, 6900 Daniels Parkway, Unit 29, P.O. Box 239, Fort Meyers, FL 33912.
Or call Ms. Bruno at (631) 631-433-1134. She will pick up donations of books for ages three to six (English or Spanish) and crayons, pencils, paper, scissors, glue, finger paints, water paints, markers, etc. designed for preschool children.
Asked why she was volunteering to organize the effort, Ms. Bruno paused and said the thought of children caught in the hurricane and its aftermath “touched my heart.”