John Purcell/Recorder staff
Volunteers gather Tuesday at a donation collection site in a parking lot adjacent to the Walter Elwood Museum in Amsterdam.

By JOHN PURCELL

Recorder News Staff

Amsterdam community members are rallying to provide relief to the devastated territories of Puerto Rico following catastrophic damage sustained during Hurricane Maria.

John Purcell/Recorder staff
From left, Myra Santiago, Josie LaPorta and Cynthia Rivera sort donations outside of Elaine and Elizabeth Diaz’s Pulaski Street home. The donations will be shipped to Puerto Rico to provide relief following Hurricane Maria.

A burgeoning relief effort was spurred after Amsterdam resident Denise Diaz posted to Facebook that she would be “putting together a few of her things” to send to Puerto Rico, so she invited anyone who was interested to drop items off at her home to send with her donations. Diaz had tagged 25 women in her initial post and one of the women, Edna Marquez, suggested they start a collection effort.

“This all just started with a few of our friends,” Diaz said Tuesday. “When I got this tremendous amount of love coming my way I wasn’t expecting this.”

The outreach effort quickly spread amongst friends on social media leading to what’s become a full blown relief effort involving volunteers sorting through boxes and boxes of donations. Boxes and cases of water are piled up in her garage and in the front entrance hallway into her home.

“Before you knew it, it went from one box to five boxes to 10 boxes to water is being left on our porch,” Diaz said. “This has been nonstop from Friday, Sept. 22, till today and God knows till when.”

On Tuesday, several volunteers sorted through donations on tables setup along Diaz’s driveway at 30 Pulaski St. She said fellow city residents have dropped off donations as well as people from Schenectady and Albany counties. She welcomed anyone to drop off donations.

From bottom, Denise Diaz poses with her wife, Elizabeth, and Edna Marquez on the front steps of her Pulaski Street home, which is served as a collection site for donations to provide relief to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Diaz and her wife, Elizabeth, a Puerto Rico native, both have relatives living in Puerto Rico. Diaz said most volunteers have relatives living on the island, too.

“They’re struggling. They’ve lost everything,” Diaz said. “They have no water and no electricity on the island. They’ve never seen anything like this in their whole entire life.”

Diaz said nobody she knows was able to get in touch with their relatives for around three to four days after Hurricane Maria tore through the island. She even helped pass along messages from her family’s neighbors who could not get in contact with their family.

“They gave me numbers of people that I could please call for them and tell them that their mother was okay,” Diaz said. “All I heard was sobbing on the other end of the line and it just brought me so much joy to know that person would be able to sleep at night knowing that their mother, father, or sister was okay.”

Diamary Almodovar-Boneta and her wife, Elaine, of Amsterdam, started their own donation collection efforts after they had talked to their family members in Puerto Rico.

“We talked to family members that have gotten through to us — they’re devastated,” Almodovar-Boneta said. “They have no food, no water, no money because the ATMs are down with no power. My aunt lost her house and my cousin completely lost everything.”

Almodovar-Boneta said they want to do whatever they can to help their family members and others on the island. Their donation post is in a parking lot adjacent to the Walter Elwood Museum and operates daily from 10 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. until Friday afternoon.

“Despite the distance, we’re going to be there to lift them up and help them rebuild,” she said. “Our family members have said they go out there and it’s so desolate. Everything is down … there’s no way to get from one family member to the next family member even next door because the trees are down, power lines are down, flooding everywhere.”

Almodovar-Boneta said people can donate water, toiletries, batteries, baby formula, baby cereal, canned goods and clothing. Diaz stressed the importance for people to donate water, with anyone welcome to drop off donations during the day at 30 Pulaski St. Neither site is collecting monetary donations.

Amsterdam resident Julio Castrello drops off a donation of water to collection drive at Elaine and Elizabeth Diaz’s Pulaski Street home. Items received will be shipped to Puerto Rico to provide relief following Hurricane Maria.

“One of our family members video chatted with us and we showed them what we had gott,” Almodovar-Boneta said. “There were tears of joy, tears of gratefulness.”

The Greater Amsterdam School District also announced Tuesday it’s collecting flashlights, batteries, mosquito repellent, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, diapers and other necessities until Oct. 13. Donations can be dropped off at the main office of each school and the district office.

Almodovar-Boneta said a Virginia organization offered to bring trailers to Amsterdam to pick up donations. She said donations will then be shipped to Florida and then depart for Puerto Rico.

Diaz has teamed up with her friend Rafael Nieves, of Albany, who has reportedly secured five tractor trailers to help transport the items for shipment. Diaz said Nieves has secured three containers in New Jersey to be filled with donations.

“Every time someone hands me a bag, I look at them in their eyes and say, ‘I promise you this is going to get to Puerto Rico,’” Diaz said. “I’ve always been a person of my word.”