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Worcester progressives raise funds, highlight federal neglect of Puerto Rico

Sarai Rivera

WORCESTER, Mass. – “Where else in the United States of America would that ever happen?” Worcester Mayor Joe Petty asked a crowd of about 100 people.

Petty was referring to the fact that up to 200,000 people in Puerto Rico are still without power, more than half a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. He was speaking April 11 at “An Evening in Solidarity with Puerto Rico,” a fundraiser sponsored by Greater Worcester Our Revolution (GWOR) at El Basha, a local restaurant.

In hosting the event, the GWOR raised more than $2,000 through ticket sales and a raffle, in which attendees could win items donated by local businesses.

“It’s pretty clear that Worcester supports Puerto Rico,” a representative of GWOR said, and noted the elected officials who attended. That roster was impressive, and included Petty, City Councilors Sarai Rivera and George Russell, State Representatives Dan Donahue and Mary Keefe, progressive District Attorney Joe Early, Jr., State Senator Michael Moore, Register of Deeds Tony Vigliotti, and School Committee members Dante Comparetto and John Monfredo, and Seth Nadeau, for the office of Rep. Jim McGovern. In addition, members of the Worcester Democratic City Committee and other organizations attended. State representative Pam Gemme, as well as Governor’s Council candidate Paul DePalo, also supported the event. City Councilor Kate Toomey couldn’t attend due to a family obligation, and state representative candidate David LeBeouf was attending an event in Washington; both sent  monetary contribution.

While the damage to the island has mainly fallen off the news cycle, the misery in Puerto Rico is ongoing. Up to 200,000 people still lack access to electricity, and, where power has been restored, there have still been rolling power losses. The ongoing blackout has now surpassed most others, to become the second largest in world history; the only one longer was in the Philippines in 2013, after a typhoon.

The damage goes beyond a loss of electricity. The Puerto Rican education system has been disrupted, with up to 300 schools still closed. The hurricane left the island’s economy in tatters. Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico was suffering from a debt crisis, in large part, many observers say, due to its colonial relationship to the United States.

“It’s disgraceful how our U.S. brothers and sisters are being treated on the island,” Rivera, who spoke at the event, said.

Petty noted that many families from Puerto Rico had settled in Worcester, calling them “a blessing” to the city. “We’re going to continue to support them, make sure they have supplies, make sure they have health insurance,” he said. From these families, Worcester Public Schools have gained 300 new students, and, the mayor added, Superintendent Maureen Binienda and the administration are trying to find ways to make sure their education is disrupted as little as possible.

While there were some speakers, most of the evening consisted of music, performed by area artists who donated their time. Lucelia DeJesus started the music with a rendition of a popular patriotic song from Puerto Rico. The rest of the program included Don Prange and Al Polese, Nate Flecha, Peter Mach, Matt Roberts and Marty Ayotte, and the Hip Swayers.

The money raised went to Amor Para Puerto Rico, of which Rivera is a founding figure. The group came together days after the hurricane hit, and has a highly strategic approach to helping the island. Amor issued a request for proposals, and is now evaluating the first round of applications. The group stresses that they want to ensure that none of the money is wasted, and that every dollar is used in a way that maximizes its effect on Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Amor is also working to help the newly-arriving families from Puerto Rico in the Worcester area.  For instance, the organization took note that arriving in a new country after having lost everything is a great trauma, and that many people might not know of the services available to them. Consequently, Amor trained a group of volunteers, who are now on hand to assist new residents from the island in navigating such things as the school system, and other necessities.

Local businesses who donated to the raffle included French Twist Boutique, Price Chopper, Scizzors Hair Salon, Nancy Chang’s Restaurant, C.C. Lowell, Ed Hyder’s Mediterranean Marketplace, Leo’s Vac Shop, Michaelangelo’s Gentlemen’s Barbershop, Lori Mader of Cedar Swamp Pottery, and community resident Margot Barnet.

To make a donation, go to the APPR Facebook page and follow the instructions under “how to donate.”

Photo: Sarai Rivera speaking. Courtesy John Tartaglia.

(Full disclosure: This reporter was one of the event’s organizer’s.)

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