BUFFALO NY — In Western New York, locals, who have family in Puerto Rico, are feeling the pain of being disconnected.
However, many aren't waiting around for communication lines to open up. They're keeping busy with the relief effort.
2 on Your Side met up with cyclists from Slow Roll Buffalo, who organized a special ride to help collect donations for Hurricane Relief in Puerto Rico.
It started at the Pucho Olivencia Center on Swan Street and had two stops — The Belle Center and the Connecticut Street Armory. They are donation drop-off locations.
Some of the riders will attach trailers to their bikes in an effort to pick up donations and bring them to the donation drop-off sites.
Channel 2 dropped by The Belle Center to see how collection efforts were going, Thursday, and found rooms full of packs of water, non-perishable foods, baby supplies, paper goods, and cleaning products.
Wilmer Olivencia, Jr., who has been spearheading the donation collection effort at The Belle Center, admits it's hard to quantify, "It's just coming in that fast."
Despite all this, Wilmer says they can't get too excited because this isn't nearly enough.
Wilmer's uncle, Chito Olivencia, tells 2 On Your Side they were able to get a phone call through to the Governor's office in Puerto Rico Thursday morning. They got a list of the items in greatest need in the 78 towns across the island.
This is the list they gave Channel 2:
- Bottled water
- Solar lights
- Baby formula
- Diapers and wipes
- Pet food
- Toiletries/personal care products
Chito says money is gratefully accepted, too, "We don't care if it's a dollar, five dollars, ten...we need the money, it's very important."
The Belle Center is accepting cash and check donations. They're asking that checks be made out to "The Belle Center" and that you write "Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief" in the memo section.
We're told the funds will be deposited into an account at M&T Bank, and 100 percent percent of the funds will go directly to relief efforts.
They're also looking for more volunteers.
"So if it's time in organizing the shipments to get them out to Puerto Rico," Wilmer said, "we could definitely use that. This is an effort that is not going to end next week, this is going to be long-term."
Wilmer tells 2 On Your Side they're working with the National Guard to get these supplies down to Puerto Rico.
"And we're looking to do a shipment leaving within the next week to go out there to San Juan," she said.
From San Juan, Wilmer says the shipments will be distributed to the towns via helicopter.
Aside from the current collections, the folks at The Belle Center say there is also a lot of planning going on. Local agencies are preparing for the possibility that people might decide to relocate to Western New York from Puerto Rico, to escape the devastation, and to be closer to family.
"The schools have been destroyed," Wilmer said. "Preparing our schools here in Buffalo for an influx of students that are going to be leaving the island and coming here because it may be months before they can get back into school...School officials have come to our community forums. They have seen that there is going to be a need, so I'm sure that they are mobilizing within themselves to put a plan together."
We're told The Belle Center is also preparing to help people from Puerto Rico find housing, if they need that.