More than nine weeks after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many residents of the island are trying to pull their lives back together somewhere else. For at least 400 of them, that somewhere else is Buffalo. That's why Holy Cross Catholic Church on the city's lower west side assembled a day long outreach in the parish hall to provide counseling from agencies offering social services, housing, employment counseling, medical insurance, food, furniture and schooling.
"Almost everyone is saying there are more people on their way," said Deacon Miguel Santos, who has been a member of Holy Cross Parish for 36 years. "People are arriving here, not because they want to be here. They are distraught. They are still coming because, up in the mountains, there's still no electricity. Even though there is now water, it may not drinkable."
In the first two hours of the day long outreach program, nearly 40 displaced people from Puerto Rico came seeking assistance. It came as no surprise to Deacon Miguel. "This is word of mouth. This is the first time that we're doing something like this. One of the things that we're finding out is everyone is saying that family members are coming tomorrow, or next week or next month. I've encountered individuals who, when they first arrived, could stay with family members but the apartments are too small or they cannot stay permanently. So people are now finding themselves in homeless shelters or hotels but they can't cook for themselves there."
Organizers of Monday's event are already considering holding another outreach in the near future. "Catholic Charities has been amazing to work with," said Nadia Pizarro, co-chair of the local efforts subcommittee of the Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief Fund. "They have the diversity of services and the willingness to work with the clientele. They're also hoping to identify apartments available to these individuals."
Those willing to contribute can donate things like pots, pans, window dressing, towels, coats and boots at Ladies of Charity, 1122 Broadway or the Catholic Charities location at 525 Washington Street. Furniture donations are being accepted at St. Vincent de Paul at 1298 Main St., in Buffalo.
Daybreak TV Productions will be featuring some of the outreach work at Holy Cross on a "Stories for Christmas" special, which will air on WKBW-TV Channel 7 on Sunday, December 17 at 1 p.m. and on Monday, December 25 at 11 p.m.