• Puerto Rico still needs help — list of volunteer opportunities, charities

    By: Fiza Pirani, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

    Updated:
    PUERTO RICO -

    Hurricane Maria, the Category 4 storm that devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, is estimated to have resulted in up to 5,000 fatalities in its aftermath.

    >> Read more trending news 

    Maria caused the longest blackout in U.S. history, leaving the entire island of 3.3 million people without power, including those in hospitals and nursing homes who relied on respirators. 

    "Indirect deaths resulting from worsening of chronic conditions or from delayed medical treatments may not be captured on death certificates," Harvard University researchers said in a recent study, which contended that the official government death toll of 64 is a “substantial underestimate.”

    >> Related: Study finds Puerto Rico death toll from Hurricane Maria near 5,000 — 72 times higher than official toll

    This makes Hurricane Maria more than twice as deadly as Hurricane Katrina. 

    Following the Harvard report, more than 400 pairs of empty shoeswere placed outside the capital building in San Juan, part of a growing memorial to the hundreds of people presumed dead during or in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. 

    Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN there would be “hell to pay” if officials do not release the updated death toll.

    >> Related: Puerto Rico’s empty shoes: Public demands transparency in Hurricane Maria death toll

    The once Category 5 storm hit the U.S. Virgin Islands in mid-September and eventually downgraded to a Category 4, but not before it plowed through Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, flooded the streets, collapsed homes and left the entire territory without power.

    Though it’s been several months since the disaster, the U.S. territory could still use your help.

    Here are some ways to help Puerto Rico. 

    Be a tourist.

    Tourism makes up 10 percent of Puerto Rico’s GDP. While many resorts and attractions are still struggling to reopen their doors to tourists, about 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s hotels and restaurants officially began serving customers again in April. Many resorts, including the Dorado Beach (Ritz-Carlton Reserve) and St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort are set to open in October.

    “Tourism dollars means that more than 50,000 people will keep their jobs and businesses will keep running,” New York Magazine reported.

    >> Related: Twitter users, politicians blast Trump's comments, behavior in Puerto Rico as ‘inappropriate

    Airbnb recently announced that for the next three months, it will be donating any fees from booked trips to recovery organizations, such as All Hands Volunteers.

    And while you’re in Puerto Rico, be sure to visit the farmers markets, which have suffered from buyer loss due to post-hurricane island flight.

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    Your Puerto Rican adventures can do some good, too.

    “Rappelling down San Cristobal Canyon supports conservation efforts in the area, a snorkeling trip to a coral reef or mangrove forest might include collecting data on local flora and fauna, and nighttime kayaking to the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay helps fund initiatives to reduce light pollution,” Travel and Leisure reported. “Most tours are less than $15, with private and group options available on request (you can book most tours online, but for special requests  email reservaciones@paralanaturaleza.org).”

    You can also plant trees while in the area by signing up with Para La Naturaleza in Cabo Rojo or Barranquitas, or help clean up the coast and help the ecosystems in Manatí.

    On the official Islands of Puerto Rico website: “Thank you in advance for your interest in visiting Puerto Rico and supporting our recovery by simply vacationing on the island.”

    >> Related: FEMA tells Southeast to prepare for 2018 hurricane season

    Donate money.

    You can donate funds to a variety of non-profits and aid organizations working to help Puerto Rico recover. Here are some reputable sites to consider giving monetary donations to:

    You can also use Charity Navigator to learn more about the organizations before donating. Note that sending money via text message may seem convenient, but according to the Associated Press, that’s not the case. Charities often have to wait on phone companies to release the money.

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    Volunteer.

    • Connect Relief: Food distribution, home reconstruction
    • Join Mission 500: Security industry professionals interested in assisting families during a Oct. 31-Nov. 4 service trip
    • All Hands: Gutting, mucking, debris removal, mould sanitations, cement and CGI roofing. Two-week volunteer commitments in Barranquitas and Yabucoa available.
    • Para La Naturaleza: Cleaning and taking care of ecological gardens; help endangered species
    • Visit Rico: Farming, agriculture experts 
    • Amigos de los Animales: Help local animal shelters find homes for abandoned cats and dogs. Volunteers can also help clean shelters and photograph animals for the organization website.
    • Instituto Nueva Escuela: Help paint schools, repair playgrounds and mentor children affected by school closings and budget cuts post-Maria.
    • Americas for Conservation and the Arts: Social media experts, digital/web proficient workers to help with volunteer coordination
    • Chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen: Help cook and package fresh meals from one of the #ChefsForPuertoRico kitchens to deliver to the territory’s recovering communities.
    • Explora PR: Adventure travel company with internship and volunteer opportunities geared toward outreach, summer camps, camps for children with autism spectrum disorder and more.
    • Vamonos: Student-focused tour operator with volunteer opportunities related to service in orphanages, foster homes, soup kitchens, construction, environment, schools and more.

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