Ogden Library hosts collection event July 18 for Puerto Rico

By on July 9, 2018
Teacher Paul Figueroa will be visiting the Ogden Farmers’ Library in Spencerport on Wednesday, July 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. to help collect non-perishable items and school supplies for his first grade students in Puerto Rico. Provided photo

Teacher Paul Figueroa will be visiting the Ogden Farmers’ Library in Spencerport on Wednesday, July 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. to help collect non-perishable items and school supplies for his first grade students in Puerto Rico. Provided photo

Story and photos

by Teresa Schreiber Werth

When Spencerport resident and nurse Maria Delgado Sutton saw Hurricane Maria bearing down on her home of Puerto Rico, she got a sick feeling in her stomach. Her husband and Physician Assistant, Jim, was already helping hurricane victims of two earlier hurricanes in Texas and Florida. The predictions got more worrisome as the eye of the monster storm headed for Maria’s hometown of Yabucoa and then destroyed it. That was September 20, 2017. Although Jim was due for time off from disaster relief, he went to Puerto Rico and did what he could to help. Delgado Sutton and their two daughters waited impatiently in Spencerport for word that relatives were safe. It was 12 days before they heard, from a stranger, that family members were alive.

As the days and weeks went by, Delgado Sutton was frustrated by the response to Puerto Rico’s needs. Today, more than 250,000 people – American citizens – have left Puerto Rico and resettled elsewhere. More than a quarter of the schools have closed and an estimated 11,000 homes, not people, are still without electricity. The death toll is still imprecise, but the original report of 64 deaths has been updated to an estimate of 4,645.

By November of last year, Delgado Sutton felt she had to do something on her own to help so she started Puerto Rico One Box at a Time. It was a simple concept: Go to the post office and pick up a free 12x12x5” cardboard mailing box. Fill it with any of the non-perishable items on the list, seal it, address it and pay a flat rate of $18.90 (up to 70#) to mail it to Puerto Rico. The idea caught on. With the help of her neighbor, Lisa Beth White, things began to happen. Schools in Spencerport and Albion held fundraisers. Churches collected items. Spencerport Rotary Club donated money toward the postage. Donations appeared from friends and strangers. To date, 172 boxes have been received and distributed in Puerto Rico, first by one of her cousins and then through pastors of two churches. Only one box has been returned.

Delgado Sutton gave a presentation to the Spanish Club at Albion Middle and High School in March. Spanish teachers Elizabeth Hall and Casey Flynn organized the collection of enough items and money to send 23 boxes to Puerto Rico. In May, to show her appreciation for their efforts, Delgado Sutton and her friend Olga Edwards, prepared a typical Puerto Rican meal and served it to the students at an after-school meeting. “Food and sharing are central to the Puerto Rican culture,” Edwards said as she served up beef and cheese empanadas. Students helped themselves to a big kettle of pollo guisau (stewed chicken), arroz guisado con salchichas or arroz guisado con gandules (yellow rice with Vienna sausage or pigeon peas), and a traditional, creamy flan for dessert.

While they ate, one of the students translated a letter from a woman who received one of their boxes. “We always enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope in the box in case people want to respond to the donors, and who knows, develop a friendship!” said Delgado Sutton, “They are so appreciative, asking God to bless the generosity of their American friends.”

Recently, Delgado Sutton has been in touch with Paul Figueroa, a teacher of Puerto Rican descent who formerly taught in Rochester. He is now teaching elementary school in Bayamon, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas. Next year he will be teaching first grade and will have 12 to 15 students. She wants to send each student two boxes: a box of non-perishable foods and a box of school supplies.

“We ask parents to provide the basics like pencils and paper but they can’t afford craft supplies, PlayDoh, glue, scissors or drawing/copy paper,” Figueroa said in a recent interview.  “I’m teaching a bilingual program where they’re learning to read and write English and Spanish. My students are very poor and they probably have no books at home … certainly not books written in English!”

That’s when Maria teamed up with local author Teresa Werth and local photographer Joe Pompili, who are donating copies of their recently published book, “Goodnight Spencerport,” so there can be one book for each student. “This accomplishes several things,” Delgado Sutton says. “It’s a beautiful book written in English that will help Paul’s students practice their reading skills. It comes from the same community that’s sending them boxes of food and school supplies, and it’s an opportunity for Paul to teach them a little history about the Erie Canal!”

Werth and Pompili are excited to collaborate on the project, connecting them with new readers all the way from Spencerport, across the ocean, to Bayamon, Puerto Rico. If other teachers in Puerto Rico want to use the book, they are willing to donate additional copies. “We never imagined that our little book could be appreciated in someplace so far away,” said Werth, “and that it could be used as a tool to help kids learn to read and understand English!”

Figueroa will be visiting Rochester in July and plans to attend a collection event at The Ogden Farmers’ Library on Wednesday, July 18 from 1 to 3 p.m. along with Maria Delgado Sutton and Teresa Werth. The community is invited to bring food items and specific school supplies (see lists) to fill boxes for Paul’s students.

A typical non-perishable box contains: one small bag of rice, two cans of kidney beans, two cans of tomato sauce or paste, two cans of green beans, two cans of fruit, two cans of corned beef, two cans of Vienna sausage, one box of pasta, one can of spaghetti meat sauce.  No food with expired dates can be accepted.

A typical box of school supplies/personal items would contain: a bar of soap, toothpaste, batteries, flashlight with batteries, acrylic or watercolor paints and brushes, PlayDoh, craft supplies, glue sticks, bottled glue, blunt scissors, paper clips, copy/drawing paper, construction paper.

Donating any of these items will help to fill a box. Families can also fill a box at home and bring it to be mailed, or request an address from Delgado Sutton and mail it themselves. At the Ogden Library collection event, children will also be able to draw a picture or make a card to enclose in the boxes. Delgado Sutton will have a slide presentation to view and discuss. Figueroa will answer questions about life in Puerto Rico before and after the hurricane. “I also have a GoFundMe page,” he says, “because I’m hoping to be able to get a device compatible with my PC so I can project words and lessons on the board. That link is: https://www.gofundme.com/vc92c-school-supplies-for-puerto-rico

“The next hurricane season has already started,” says Delgado Sutton. “I have heard that some people in Puerto Rico have saved our boxes and are now filling them with their own supplies because they’re afraid of what might happen during this hurricane season. They want to be prepared. The need still exists and as long as there are people in need, I’ll be helping. I have been so humbled by people’s willingness to get involved in this project. I hope families will come to the Ogden Library on July 18 and join our efforts.” If you cannot make it to the event, please reach out to Maria Delgado Sutton at pr1boxatatime@gmail.com, or message her on Facebook at Puerto Rico One Box At A Time.
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Here are some of the people in Puerto Rico who are grateful to have received boxes from the Puerto Rico One Box at a Time Project started last November by Spencerport resident Maria Delgado Sutton after Hurricane Maria devastated her homeland. Provided photo

 

 

 

 

Maria Delgado Sutton, organizer of Puerto Rico One Box at a Time campaign, talks to parishioners at Trinity Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Gates about the extent of damage to Puerto Rico after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, last September. The church has adopted Puerto Rico One Box at a Time as their annual mission project. Provided photo

Maria Delgado Sutton, organizer of Puerto Rico One Box at a Time campaign, talks to parishioners at Trinity Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Gates about the extent of damage to Puerto Rico after it was hit by Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, last September. The church has adopted Puerto Rico One Box at a Time as their annual mission project. Provided photo

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