Hurricane Relief Efforts Update

Our staff members recently participated on a call with the Council on Foundations and representatives of other Community Foundations from Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and US Virgin Islands and FEMA. We received an in-depth update on current status of rescue and recovery needs identified by FEMA and foundations on the ground. Here are highlights:

Dr. Nelson Colon of Puerto Rico reports that only 10% of power and 40% of water systems are working. Sea and airports are opening slowly. Only three of more than 100 radio stations are fully functioning. Less than 10% of hotels are functioning.

The Council on Foundations (COF) is focusing on four strategies in Puerto Rico:

  • Building capacity of nonprofits to be social first responders
  • Building capacity of community clinics to provide services to low income neighborhoods and reestablish regular services
  • Working on readiness of teachers and students to return to school around mid-October (giving teachers “mini grants” to help get rooms ready and giving students backpack).
  • Working with an arts group to integrate into schools

The COF made two recent grants: one for women for emotional counseling and support and one to provide microfinance. They are also prepared to receive supplies.

The most vulnerable communities are suffering most and they are also the most unreachable for most organizations.

Dr. Anna Scarbriel of the Community Foundation of the US Virgin Islands (CFVI) reports that many of the updates from Puerto Rico are the same in USVI. Virgin Islands Recovery task force is working to strategically apply funds that are coming in. People of PR sent supplies to USVI before Maria.  Other updates include:

  • Irma: St. Thomas and St. John were able to run disaster recovery from St. Croix.
  • Maria directly impacted St. Croix. They were hit by 2 category 5 hurricanes in 2 weeks.
  • USPS is up and running to a degree. No landlines are working; relying on cell service which is hit or miss. Want to make sure efforts are all collaborative.
  • Main hospitals will have to be rebuilt. All critical patients have been evacuated and that will continue.
  • Schools tentatively planning to open next week. At least 3 will not be able to operate moving forward so Dept. of Education is working on new plan for those students.
  • Established Fund for the VI the day after Irma hit.
  • Bloomberg philanthropy and others have jumped in to help. CFVI will be taking lead to coordinate recovery efforts and hiring a program manager for this fund.
  • Have made 10 grants to 10 organizations totaling $250,000. Granted to organizations on three main islands that are established, trusted. and working on the ground. Geography and topography are big challenges to getting relief to people.

Deanna James of St. Croix Foundation reports that the foundation did somethings right after island was almost completely destroyed in Hugo, so they were more prepared this time. They do have a huge expat community who have been generous, but the problem arises with handling the volume of donations (primarily goods).

  • Disasters like this only widen the equity gap (as mentioned by others).
  • As operating foundation, they are working to help coordinate a more collaborative and cohesive response.
  • And trying to take a holistic view of what community development will look like after these hurricanes.
  • Multi-pronged approach: 1) coordinating and supporting front line relief efforts (had full connectivity after Irma, so they were able to help St. Thomas until Maria). Working to convene and connect the front line teams. 2) Have been making an effort to build more partnerships and relationships on the mainland US. 3) most donations are going to disaster relief that would normally go to nonprofits, so they are trying to fill those gaps.
  • After previous disaster, the Foundation was given a block of buildings and buried all utilities when renovating them. Because of this their connectivity and electricity was back up in one week. Have become a de facto incubator for several other nonprofits that lost buildings.
  • Excited about being a leader in the redevelopment efforts and using lessons learned to help guide strategic rebuilding efforts. Need to build capacity to be self-servicing in the future during the waiting period before relief can arrive from mainland U.S.
  • Have developed a relief fund to support long term efforts. Are working with St. John CF to coordinate efforts.


FEMA has designated a staff member to be a liaison between the agency and philanthropic organizations.  For information on giving opportunities click here.