Jesse, Puerto Rican leaders: ‘Challenge is getting supplies to islands’

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JOINING REV. JESSE JACKSON (podium, center) at a press conference Wednesday, October 18 to update the public on the status of humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico are (l-r) Rev. Dr. Ray Allen Berryhill, Joann Montez, Resurrected Life Church International, and Red De Oracion USA; Laurie Miranda (Red De Oracion USA); State Rep. Luis Arroyo and Rev. Jorge Fuentes (Red De Oracion USA). (Photo by Chinta Strausberg)  

By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader

Fresh from a four-day supply relief mission to Puerto Rico, Reverend Jesse Jackson and a coalition of Puerto Rican leaders Wednesday said their next challenge is to deliver their next load to the island that remains decimated by Hurricane Maria, and mostly dark.

With a united effort between Blacks and Puerto Ricans over the weekend, Jackson was able to deliver 158,000 pounds of relief supplies to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands thanks to FedEx, which supplied a huge MD-11 plane for the relief mission. FedEx has made more than 100 flights into Puerto Rico and delivered more than 12 million pounds of supplies, according to Jackson.

Delivering another 300 pallets (representing about 350,000 pounds) of relief supplies gathered by volunteers “is our next challenge,” said Jackson.

“There are more than 300 skids of water, food, medicine, generators and other supplies stored in Chicago churches and warehouses waiting to be delivered to the island,” he said.

One hundred and fifty mile per hour winds caused $90 billion in damage on the island, both to properties and infrastructure.

The coalition is in dire need of air services to transport the relief supplies to Puerto Rico. To date FedEx is the only air service that has provided transport of relief supplies to the island.

REV. LOU RAMOS, pastor of the Storehouse Church in Chicago, also spoke during the press conference, which was held at the Resurrected Life Church International, 4538 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago.

Representing a coalition of Latino pastors, Rev. Lou Ramos of the Storehouse Church said, “It’s a collaboration of faith-based clergy and the Puerto Rican community working together. We’re about the people … about children. We’re calling out to see if there is anybody who can help us. This is your moment to rise up.”

Ramos agreed it will be a challenge to get the 300 skids to Puerto Rico. “They are in desperate need for food and water. We have it. We need help to get it out.”

Jackson, who toured the island by car and helicopter, challenged corporate America and airlines to step up as FedEx did and help bring hope to this battered island. “The crisis is ongoing,” he said.

Jackson and a coalition of ministers distributed the relief supplies in a church-to-church system to ensure those in need actually received the supplies.

Having met with the mayor of San Juan and the governor of Puerto Rico, Jackson said, “The people of Puerto Rico are resilient and proud. They are doing everything they can to rebuild their beloved island, but they cannot and should not have to do it alone.”

“They are American citizens and should be treated as such, just like the victims of the hurricanes that smashed into New Orleans, Houston, Florida and the fire storms that ravaged northern California,” Jackson told reporters.

Almost four-weeks after Hurricane Maria, Jackson said 80 percent of the island still does not have electrical power and 40 percent of the 3.4 million residents are without running drinkable water. That he said “is unacceptable.” And the healthcare, he said, “is in dire condition. The school system has been shut down.”

Jackson also said the Virgin Islands must not be put “on the back burner,” for Hurricane Maria also devastated that U.S. territory. Jackson vowed to visit those islands as well.

With Puerto Ricans living in the dark, enduring rains nearly every day, unable to travel or get their medicine, is why Jackson is calling for mass evacuations of Puerto Ricans to the mainland for treatment and education “until life on the island can get back to normal.”

“The slow response by the federal government is a manmade disgrace, but we the people will not forsake our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters, our fellow Americans. We have more work to do,” said Jackson.

Because Puerto Rico does not have the right to vote in U.S. elections, Jackson said they “are living on the island and are treated like colonized subjects, not full-fledged citizens. The crown jewel of American democracy is the right to vote, but Puerto Ricans are denied the right to vote for president. They’re under democracy but not in it. That must change today.”

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