VIRGINIA BEACH – Raquel Rivera, who came stateside in 2003, still has family in Puerto Rico, and she was devastated when Hurricane Maria struck the island this past month.
“The whole island is destroyed, and we wanted to do something to help,” said Rivera.
So Rivera, the owner of De Rican Chef, held a fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 30, at the restaurant to raise money and donations of supplies to assist the hurricane victims. She was overwhelmed with the response from the community.
“We decided to have a little get-together,” Rivera said. “We put it on social media and it went viral.”
The parking lot of her Holland Road restaurant was abuzz with activity that Saturday as volunteers feverishly worked to organize donations of paper towels, diapers, pet food and other household supplies. They were still packing the items hours after the event ended.
Donations filled seven 40-foot containers supplied by Ace Mechanical, and some donors contributed cash to help pay the $3,500 it will cost to ship each container to Puerto Rico.
A festive atmosphere prevailed at the fund-raiser, where the band, VA Mambo, performed Latin music while children played in bounce houses or had their faces painted. Food was also available for a donation. Some attendees relaxed in lawn chairs while they listened to the music.
Members of the Virginia Chapter of the Borinqueneers Motorcycle Club were part of the event.
That club, whose members include active or retired military and public safety employees, organized to honor the 65th Infantry Regiment, a Hispanic unit of the United States Military who served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
“We’re community-based, and anytime we’re needed we try to help,” said Juan Tavarez, a member of the club.
Like Rivera, the club members had stories of family members still living in Puerto Rico who had survived the hurricane unharmed but were struggling with communication and acquiring basic provisions.
Some of the members were trying to bring their relatives to the U.S. until conditions improved on the island, but their attempts were being frustrated by flight delays as Puerto Rico continued to struggle with power outages.
“My mother still lives in Puerto Rico,” Raul Nieves said, “and I’m trying to get her out of there, but the flight keeps getting cancelled.”
Tavarez said he was concerned about his 94-year old grandmother. A cousin is trying to bring her to the U.S.
Rivera, meanwhile, said she was relieved just to talk to her mother when she was finally able to get a call through to Puerto Rico on Friday, Sept. 29.
De Rican Chef is still collecting donations to help offset the shipping costs to send goods to Puerto Rico. Call (757) 416-4248 for more information.
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