Lakeland-based nonprofit delivers aid to Puerto Rico, prepares for second trip

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Thursday, October 12, 2017, 6:18 PM EDT

A Lakeland-based nonprofit group just back from providing aid in Puerto Rico is already gathering supplies and volunteers to make another trip in November.

  • Group headed to Puerto Rico once images of Maria damage surfaced
  • Group handed out suitcases with food, diapers, hygiene products
  • Want to help with a donation? Visit their GoFundMe page

The Caribbean American Civic Movement, run by Daniel Thelusmar, who is of Haitian descent, usually helps Haitians both in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Thelusmar said the nonprofit group decided to head to Puerto Rico when he saw the images of the hurricane ravaged island on the news.

"Is it heartbreaking," Thelusmar said. "It is even more heartbreaking because we're talking about the U.S.”

While on the island, Thelusmar’s friend Jesus took them to Playa Puerto Real, near Fajardo.

"Nobody had made it to them,” Thelusmar said.

He said all of the wooden homes there were destroyed, and stores and gas stations weren’t open.

"We were a little bit panicking when we got there Saturday, the first night because the people, they're very desperate and you can see the desperation in their face," Thelusmar said. "They say ‘hey what do you have? What do you have?’ And it started getting dark. There’s no electricity."

The organization handed out six suitcases worth of food, pampers, and hygiene products until it ran out.

"We were surrounded with a bunch of people. I said 'We have nothing else to give you.' They said 'Don't worry about it. We're glad here. You being here alone already give us something because you make us feel like somebody is thinking about us,'” Thelusmar said.

The group also cleaned up what was left of a cancer patient's home and provided him a tent. Then they returned to San Juan and told government officials the town needed help.

"He said, 'Don't worry -- give me two days. I will give them what they need,'" Thelusmar said. "I didn’t really believe them. I didn’t have faith until Jesus told me, 'Hey they went there. They have water and food.'”

Due to his experience with relief work in Haiti, Thelusmar believes this strategy of connecting with people living there and delivering the goods directly to the people most in need was most effective.

"They need more ground operation, you know. They need to be more serious," Thelusmar said. "Rather than do it for show, it needs to be serious. Apply the stuff. Build ground operation. Go to the people. Give them what they need."

His group is looking for more people, especially doctors, to go back with them at the end of November. They are currently organizing a benefit concert to raise funds for additional supplies and the trip.

The concert, featuring live reggae and Latin music, will be held at The Gazebo, located at 8837 N. 56th Street, in Temple Terrace, on Sat. Oct. 14, from 9 am to 5 pm. The group also has a GoFundMe page.

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