Carla Rodriguez spends all day waiting for 7 p.m.
That’s the time she and her mom, Esther, or “Mami,” set to talk on the landline back home in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, every night.
In those few minutes, Rodriguez, in Gainesville, gets caught up on everything. Low supplies. Hard-to-find gas. Little water left.
Then the line cuts. Carla Rodriguez will call back, but the already-weak signal is usually gone after the first call.
Then she waits until 7 p.m. tomorrow.
“It’s really hard, I’ve always had a really close relationship with my mom,” Carla Rodriguez, a 29-year-old UF Health, said. “I’m getting accustomed to this thing where we can barely speak — I wish I could talk to her.”
Carla Rodriguez, an organizer for Puerto Rico-based nonprofit group PResente, along with UF students and Gainesville businesses, is working to gather donations after Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4 hurricane, decimated the island.
The storm left millions on the U.S. territory in desperate condition and knocked out 100 percent of the electrical grid, initially leaving the entire island without power, according to The Washington Post.
“It’s a way to keep our minds occupied,” Rodriguez said of the relief work. “We’re also suffering here, too, not hearing from our families.”
PResente, which started in April, consists of members who first met at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez before moving to the continental U.S. to pursue graduate school, said Melissa Cruz-Acuña, the group’s president and a UF biomedical engineering doctoral fifth-year.
For students like her, recovery is about home, she said.
“It’s going to be very hard for Puerto Rico to recover from this,” she said. “Honestly, I don’t even know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how things are going to work now.”
Angel Santiago, a UF applied physiology and kinesiology junior, feels anguished he can’t do more.
The president of UF’s Unión de Estudiantes Puertorriqueños Activos has set a club goal to raise $1,000. His club also set up collection boxes, for items like over-the-counter medicine and baby formula, around campus. Last weekend, he drove a truck filled with generators to Jacksonville to be shipped to Puerto Rico.
But Santiago still feels it isn’t enough.
“I’m devastated,” the 20-year-old said. “I’m really devastated knowing I’m here, and there are a lot of people suffering out there.”
Santiago said items shipped to Puerto Rico have not been distributed. Tens of thousands of shipping containers with supplies have sat unopened in the port of San Juan, according to CNN.
He also said the U.S. government has not done enough to help the island. He said the Jones Act, an act that limits shipping, should have been waived. Thursday afternoon, a week after Hurricane Maria hit, President Donald Trump waived the act, according to the New York Times.
Gainesville-based nonprofit Insulin For Life USA, which has already donated two shipments of insulin, syringes, test needles and other diabetes supplies in the past month, sent provisions via private plane, said Carol Atkinson, the organization's director.
After the storm, the temperature-sensitive equipment was delivered to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Croix by private pilots who donated their time and planes, Atkinson said. She said the supplies couldn’t be left on docks in the port or else they would become useless.
The Hippodrome State Theatre announced Tuesday that cinema passes for any regular screening event are free through Friday for anyone who donates supplies at the box office.
More than 50 residents have donated enough items to cover one floor of the theatre’s staircase, including sleeping bags, full boxes of clothes and diapers, said the Hippodrome spokesperson Rachel Jones.
To assist the 14 UF students from Puerto Rico and one from the U.S. Virgin Islands affected by Hurricane Maria, UF will offer a waiver that creates effective in-state tuition for those 15 students, wrote UF spokesperson Margot Winick in an email.
Denis Anthony Moreira, a UF digital arts and sciences senior, is capturing headshots for donations to UNICEF and Unidos Por Puerto Rico.
From 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Plaza of the Americas today and the next Friday, the 22-year-old will charge $3 for a professional headshot and $5 for a headshot and a full-body photograph.
Moreira’s mother and grandmother were born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and he grew up hearing his mother’s stories about the mountains.
“Puerto Rico is my home,” he said. “I wasn’t born there, but it definitely runs through … my veins and my blood and through my family.”
Downtown Gainesville's Omi’s Tavern held a fundraiser Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., where 25 percent of all sales went to PResente’s Hurricane Maria relief fund.
As Venezuela native Laura Vassallo sat inside Omi’s at a white-clothed table, ready to enjoy a feast of steamy lechon, white rice, red beans and tres leches cake, she thought of home in Caracas, Venezuela.
“I know of necessity,” the 27-year-old said. “I think for us to help people, who lost everything and have no good food and water, and need us in the country to give anything, it all makes a difference.”
Mi Apa Latin Cafe donated $2,000 to All Hands Volunteers, an organization committed to helping communities afflicted by natural disasters. Peter Ynigo, co-owner of Mi Apa, hopes it will encourage others to offer support.
Ynigo said friends in Puerto Rico face the grim prospect of going without power for months and must wait in line for days in the hope of clean water, he said. It’s a natural disaster like Ynigo has never seen before.
“I think these people are going to need our help for a long time,” he said.
Lauren Douma, a Flow Space yoga instructor, will hold an hourlong vinyasa yoga class Sunday to collect donations for Unidos Por Puerto Rico, a relief initiative spearheaded by the first lady of Puerto Rico.
“I feel like it’s an obligation as an American to help your fellow Americans,” she said.
The event, Yoga Flow for Puerto Rico, will begin at 5 p.m. at Flow Space yoga studio. The class is free but Douma is asking for donations to support hurricane victims.
Douma was inspired to donate her time for the class after seeing friends with family in Puerto Rico struggle to cope with the disaster.
“I can’t even imagine what that’s like, knowing that such a catastrophic thing has happened in a place your family lives and then not being able to get in touch with them,” she said.
Laura Robles-Torres waited three days to hear from her parents in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
While sitting in her The World of Water class Friday, her phone finally rang — her father, calling from the island. Robles-Torres quickly asked her professor to be excused and hurried out of the classroom.
Her family was OK, and her house only suffered minor damages. Still, her mother boarded a flight Thursday afternoon for Orlando to get off the island. It took her nearly four days to get a ticket.
“She had to get out because it was really bad,” Robles-Torres said.
Robles-Torres, a 19-year-old UF political science sophomore and public relations director for UF’s Unión de Estudiantes Puertorriqueños Activos, said it’s been exciting to see how many people have reached out asking about ways to help. However, she said she’s worried about the island after attention shifts.
She said the country’s infrastructure was decimated, and there isn’t money to rebuild.
“Since I’ve been alive, Puerto Rico doesn’t really get that much attention ever,” she said. “It’s kind of sad that a tragedy has to happen for us to be looked at.”