MARIA: Polk County Puerto Rican chamber hosts countywide donation drive for hurricane survivors

By Stephanie Claytor, Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, September 30, 2017, 10:50 AM EDT

The Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Polk County (PRHCCPC) has a donation drive with drop-off sites county-wide in order to help the Hurricane Maria survivors in Puerto Rico.

The group is mainly collecting batteries, small canned goods, baby supplies, hygiene products, insect repellent and over the counter medicines.

Twenty five places in Polk County are participating, including businesses, churches, and colleges.

The effort was organized by Ana Rivera, founder of PRHCCPC. She survived Hurricane Hugo in Puerto Rico and said she knows what the needs are.

“I haven’t had time to cry because I can’t dwell on crying and the pain. This is what’s generating my activity, my keeping me busy. I said I needed to get involved and my members needed to band together to do this,” said Ana Rivera.

At Zahira’s Beauty Salon in Lakeland--one of the drop off locations--people dropped off so many things they had to take some of it to another drop off location in order to have space to operate.

“It’s just been overwhelming and God is good and we’re all sticking together and making a difference,” said Maria Gomez, one of the stylist who still hasn’t heard from her son’s grandmother in Guayama, Puerto Rico.

The owner of the salon, Zahira Apolinaris, said her elderly in-laws survived Hurricane Maria in the coastal San Juan suburb of Levittown, Puerto Rico, only to have their homes flooded suddenly after the storm passed.

“They had to rush out of the house with water up to their hips,” said Zahira Apolinaris.

Apolinaris described the in-laws as elderly with health complications. Her husband is headed to the island to bring them to the mainland.

“They’re very ill and confused and they need to be over here. But he’s scared that he won’t make it back because of the airport situation but hopefully he will,” Apolinaris said. 

At Advanced Internal Medicine Care in Lakeland--another donation drop off location--manager Minnie Rivera said her sister told her Thursday the situation is getting worse in their mountainous small town.

“My sister was just in line for two hours waiting to get cash out of the ATM. For groceries and water, she said the line is even longer and she hasn’t seen anything from the government of any type of distribution yet,” said Minnie Rivera.

The chamber plans to collect items in phases. The first phase concludes Oct. 1.

Ana Rivera is working with Colonel Evelio Otero Jr. (USAF retired) to get the items transported to Puerto Rico. She has connections to the National Guard.  

In October, the chamber will collect items for specific regions in Puerto Rico and host events to raise money to ship those items. Closer to the holidays, the organization will collect Christmas gifts for the children still in Puerto Rico.

For more information, contact: or call Ana Rivera at 863-838-2084.