Morning drop-off was busier than usual at St. Bernard Catholic Academy in Mill Basin, as parents arrived not only with their children in tow, but also cases of bottled water, formula, diapers and paper towels.
By the time homeroom began at 8:05 a.m., the school lobby was full of relief supplies for the people who have been impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“It makes me feel good St. Bernard has Puerto Ricans in their thoughts and in their hearts,” said Miriam Soldyn, whose grandchildren attend the school. They brought in bags of rice and dry beans, cans of shaving cream and bottles of shampoo.
Soldyn spent part of her youth in Puerto Rico, where her aunt and cousins still live. She heard from them just after the storm nearly three weeks ago, but has not received any word since.
“It’s very upsetting not knowing how they’re doing or what’s going on,” she said.
A category-4 storm, Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, which is home to 3.5 million people, many of whom are now lacking sufficient electricity, clean water and basic supplies.
Individuals and organizations across the country, and right here in Brooklyn and Queens, are doing their part to provide relief. In cooperation with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, the Brooklyn Diocese is collecting material and monetary donations for Puerto Rico through Oct. 20.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has asked parishes to take up a collection of bottled water, non-perishable food, first aid supplies, baby formula, diapers, hygiene products, flashlights and batteries. He also authorized a voluntary monetary collection at Masses last weekend.
Donated items will be packaged by Catholic Charities and then flown to Puerto Rico, courtesy of JetBlue Airlines. The Catholic Charities agency there will arrange for direct distribution to the hurricane victims.
Bishop DiMarzio is also inviting the diocese to gather in prayer for the people of Puerto Rico at a special Mass on Friday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights.
Prayers have been on the lips of the St. Bernard community since the hurricane was anticipated to make landfall.
“We’ve been praying for the people in Puerto Rico, but prayers also need action,” said Kathleen Buscemi, principal of St. Bernard Catholic Academy. “This is the action.”
The academy hosted a dress down day during the first week of October, and every child who contributed to the relief effort was excused from wearing the school uniform for the day. Donations were then added to the larger, parish-wide collection.
Last month, the academy also partnered with the National Catholic Education Association to raise $2,820 with a dress down day fundraiser to benefit Catholic schools affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
Though farther than Texas and Florida, Puerto Rico is much closer to the hearts of Kayla and Kaitlyn Leon, sixth graders at St. Bernard. The twins’ mother and father were born in Hatillo and Aguadilla, respectively, and they still have family there.
“We’ve called them (relatives) and they’re ok,” Kayla said. “ But it’s going to be a long rebuilding process.”
“People don’t have a lot of things in Puerto Rico right now,” Kaitlyn added, “so for St. Bernard to be doing this, it’s really generous. I feel really proud to be a student here.”
When asked what he thought the people of Puerto Rico, especially his own family in Humacao, needed most at this time, sixth grader Tomas Diaz thought for a moment before responding, “water, hope and food.”
His hope and prayer, he said, is for the Puerto Ricans people to restore “all the buildings and all of the communities.
“I want them to have faith in themselves and rebuild,” Diaz said. “I want them to know they can do this.”