Without power, Puerto Ricans flock to Chautauqua Co., N.Y.
On the campus of SUNY-Fredonia in Chautauqua County, N.Y., there's a little piece of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
FREDONIA, N.Y. - On the campus of SUNY-Fredonia in Fredonia, N.Y., there's a little piece of San Juan, Puerto Rico. What first looks like a used-goods store inside an old dining hall is the Puerto Rico Relief Center led by Edwin Ramos and his wife Betty.
"There were people getting to the Buffalo airport in flip-flops because that's what they were wearing when they left the island," said Edwin, a Chautauqua Co. native.
So the Ramos' started collecting everything from food and water to clothes after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in late September. Edwin estimates they have received thousands of donations in the months since. But then he started noticing a trend.
"My idea was 'if we don't help them on the island, if they don't get electricity and running water, then they are going to come to the mainland and find their families'," he said. "And that's exactly what happened."
Not just the mainland, but right to Fredonia, N.Y. and nearby Dunkirk, N.Y. Combined, nearly 35 percent of their populations is Latino and Hispanic, and that number is growing.
Now, some of the donations are staying local. The center has assisted nearly 40 families in those New York communities so far.
"It's been wonderful," Betty said. "I'm excited about it, everybody's been excited."
So far, the reaction from the campus community has been positive. Each week, about a dozen student volunteers come to the relief center located inside Erie Hall each week to help out.
"If we are doing to do anything, we should do this," said James Collins, a student volunteer who is working with some members of his fraternity. "We had a lot of options and I think this is the one thing I can actually relate to because I know and somebody who was affected, too."
Because much of Puerto Rico is still without electricity, the Ramos' aren't sure when many of the refugees will be able to return home. Now, they're working with non-profits in Buffalo -- some with connections to a mattress company -- to help them settle in, until they can return home, Edwin said.
"I believe we've got about a third of the people who are going to come here are here," he said. "That means two-thirds are basically stuck in transit."
How to help
The Puerto Rico Relief Center is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. inside Erie Hall. There is a 24-hour, covered drop-off at the loading bay outside the hall.
For questions, donors can call 716-467-7967.