By Curt Peterson
HARTLAND — In the face of finger-pointing, local fiscal problems and political turmoil in Puerto Rico, two Hartland churches have banded together under the project title Hartland Churches United in Service, to help residents of the island repair Hurricane Maria’s September 2017 damage to their homes.
Vicki Lawrence and her husband, Jim, of Hartland are among 24 volunteers that are headed for Puerto Rico Jan. 6- 13.
The participants were given a list of team responsibilities, including cooking, and asked to rate their skill levels from One (“Haven’t done, but willing to try”) to Five (“Perform professionally”). The skills include everything from concrete repair and framing to HVAC installation and debris removal.
The volunteers also had to complete medical history and condition forms, and obtain various immunization and booster shots.
Yuquiyu Camp and Conference Center, owned by Iglesia Evangelica Unida of Puerto Rico, will provide bunkhouse accommodations for the group, who will drive daily to various worksites in rented vans. Work days will be eight hours long, with weekends off to rest and absorb Puerto Rican culture.
The United Church of Christ Disaster Relief organization organized the trip.
Lucia Jackson, pastor of the First Congregational Church (UCC) of Hartland, said 10 of the volunteers are young adults who have been active in the Hartland Churches Youth United in Service, a cooperative program with the First Universalist Society of Hartland.
“I put out the word and all the youth slots were filled immediately,” Rev. Jackson said.
The First Universalist Society of Hartland is the other partner in Hartland Churches United in Service.
After 14 months many Puerto Ricans are still living with severe storm damage, said David Britton and his wife Birdie, who own a small bed and breakfast inn on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Britton said damage on the main island was mitigated by storm-resilient reconstruction after 1989 Hurricane Hugo wiped out many frame structures.
“Almost no one built or rebuilt with wood,” Britton wrote in an email to The Mountain Times.
Although many house walls remain intact post-Maria, “Unless it was made of poured concrete, the roof today is a blue tarp. Looking down when flying in over Fajardo and Condado (east of San Juan) we saw a blue tarp for probably two of every five roofs,” Britton wrote.
Skunk Hollow Tavern in Hartland Four Corners hosted a successful fundraiser dinner for 140 people at two sittings on Dec. 9. Co-owner Carlos Ocasio, originally from the island, prepared Puerto Rican dishes, including roast pork and an island vegetarian bean dish that earned Ms. Lawrence’s rave reviews, and Ocasio’s wife, Gretchen, made coconut ice cream with real coconut shavings on top. The event netted over $2,000 to help finance the work mission.
The Lawrences volunteered to wait on tables during the first sitting.
A GoFundMe Facebook page and special donations made at the two sponsoring churches contributed significantly to achieving the group’s goal.
According to Pastor Jackson, the total raised for the mission is $10,000, half of which will be donated to agencies working on disaster relief.
“We were able to raise that entire amount easily, due to the incredible generosity of the people of Hartland,” Rev. Jackson said, adding, “What that tells me is that people want to be a part of helping in bad times.”