While Sasha Flores was glued to her television, watching the devastation inflicted on her home island of Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, it was personal for her.
This wasn’t just victims of a natural disaster. This was family and they needed help.
Flores, the Chartleytowne regional executive assistant with King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based Morgan Properties and a native of Puerto Rico, is leading a collection drive to help Puerto Ricans with basic personal hygiene essentials that got lost in the midst of recovering necessities such as food, water and electricity.
“It started out as just employees donating and helping, but then some residents started getting involved,” Flores said. “Then some other people saw the fliers and they started donating. When people start donating like that, it really says a lot.”
The project is being led by Flores and Sean Organ, Morgan’s area vice president for the Maryland/Carolinas area; Carol Jackson, the area vice president for the Maryland/Virginia area; Jamal Lee, the Montepelier regional marketing manager; and Jillian Fikker, the Chartleytowne regional marketing manager.
Flores started collecting such items as first aid kits, deodorant and toothpaste Sept. 29 to help distribute to the people of Puerto Rico through Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services. Once word got out about the drive, others started donating — even items Flores never thought of, such as adhesive bandages, lip balm, tissues and disinfectant wipes.
More than 30 of Morgan Properties’ locations in the northern and southern Maryland districts are drop-off points for donations. Properties in northern Virginia as well as North Carolina and South Carolina are also helping out. Flores can also be reached via email at [email protected],com for more information on how individuals can donate.
Flores collects items from each of the Maryland properties to send back home, though logistics on the island have made the effort more difficult than normal.
“You have no idea the level of coordinating that has to go on to get these items shipped there,” Flores said. “They have lost everything. There is almost no cell service.”
Maria struck Puerto Rico Sept. 20 as a high-end Category 4 hurricane, leaving the Caribbean island of roughly 3.4 million — imagine all the residents of Los Angeles losing close to everything – without proper shelter, food, water, health care or communication.
Maria slowly degraded and weakened to a tropical storm by Sept. 28 and eventually dissipated by Oct. 3. By then, the damage had been done.
The beach town of Loiza, a small municipality on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico and Flores’ home town, took the brunt of the storm. She has not been able to get regular updates on how family members are coping with the disaster because communication to the island is almost nonexistent.
She did, however, reach her aunt by cellphone once – she had to be driven to one of the few working cellphone towers on the island to receive Flores’ call — and Flores was reassured her aunt was OK. Flores then realized she had to do something to help.
Getting to work
She spoke to other Puerto Ricans who were in the similar situation of seeing their home island ravaged by the storm and feeling helpless. Then she decided to do something about it.
“This was something I just felt like I had to do. This is my family,” Flores said.
She approached executives at Morgan Properties, which owns more than 50 properties in Maryland and is one of the nation’s largest apartment building owners, about collecting items and got the go-ahead to enlist other employees to help out.
Flores plans to keep the collection drive going as long as it takes before the people of Puerto Rico are back on their feet.
“With some disasters, you could donate for one or two weeks and then it would be over, but not in Puerto Rico,” Flores said. “They lost everything and it will be months before things are back to normal.”
At least 88 people are known to have been killed by the hurricane, including 43 in Puerto Rico, as of Oct. 10. The island suffered catastrophic damage, including destruction of its previously damaged electrical grid. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated at upward of $95 billion, making Maria’s cost comparable to that of previous Hurricanes Irma and Harvey that hit Florida and Texas, respectively.