Emergency Disaster Services

SA Mobilizes in Puerto Rico & the Virgin Islands

Every hand counts

by Majors Eric and Yolanda Rodriguez

The day after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, we saw the devastation the winds and rain had wrought upon the beautiful island. We stood in the midst of immeasurable damage, and thought, we cannot get through this alone. We don’t have the resources, the capacity, or the supplies.

At that moment, it was easy to feel hopeless. People had lost everything; some even lost their faith. But as the days passed, we also saw many people come together. We realized that we were not alone; we had never been. That brought hope.

A commitment to ministry

Even before the first Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services (EDS) team arrived, officers on the island did everything they could, despite limited resources. The bigger corps focused on rebuilding ministries and helping the smaller corps. Members of the San Juan Adult Rehabilitation Centers (ARC) cooked food for the Loiza Corps members, the San Juan Corps cooked for Fajardo Corps, and Caguas Corps cooked for Humacao Corps.

Although the homes and families of many corps officers had also been affected by the storm, they continued to serve. They worked, cooked, and improvised in any way they could. For example, one officer who had no access to a kitchen, made a fire outside with wood and matches, just so he could feed other people.

Our many young officers in the Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division served their corps with such commitment, it was as if they had been there for many years.

Before the storm hit, we offered an officer in St. Croix an opportunity to come to Puerto Rico. It would have been safer for him to be with us. However, he told us he would stay in St. Croix. He was taking care of three children from his church. Their parents were away from the island, and the children had nowhere to stay. The officer and the kids withstood the storm in his house. For two weeks, we did not hear from him, until, by the grace of God, he found Wi-Fi on the island and messaged us, “I am okay.”

Honored to serve

We are honored to serve alongside the people who minister through The Salvation Army. There are volunteers in Puerto Rico who help us during the day—and sleep in their cars at night—because it is all they have left. We never hear a complaint or a negative word from them, only a desire to help people who have even less than they do. We have Army employees who stand on line for 13 hours just to get $20 worth of gasoline; or they stand in front of a supermarket for food, only to see when they arrive that all the food is gone. The next day, they come back to do it again.

We are grateful for The Salvation Army’s EDS team, because they reached victims who had been isolated because of flooded roads. With the help of EDS, we are now distributing close to 100,000 hot and cold meals to people affected by the storm.

The young people are some of the most dedicated to the mission. The love of Jesus shines in everything they do, from cleaning tables so 600 people can sit and eat comfortably, to playing music for them to lift their spirits. When we delivered food to a seniors’ community, we saw children as young as 12 carry heavy boxes of water. When they came back after a long day of work, they turned to us and asked, “Many of the residents have had their apartments flooded. Can we return and help them get the water out of their rooms?” Those wonderful young people are the future of Puerto Rico and of The Salvation Army.

Remind them they are loved

Right now, much is being done to help, but we know that the work is far from over. After the day is done and we return home, we sit in the dark and eat two of the same box meals that we gave out throughout the day. Yet, we are filled with gratitude. We pray to God, “Lord, thank you for this meal, because we know there are many souls in Puerto Rico who are without food tonight. Tomorrow, please help us get to them. Take us to feed them, to give them hope, and to remind them that they are loved by us and by You.”

When The Salvation Army helps people in need, there are no headliners or protagonists. Nobody who wears our shield is interested in being the first, the best, the most newsworthy, or the most brilliant. The Army comes with just one goal: to show every person who suffers and who is in need that we care about him or her, and that we all stand together.

Every day brings a new challenge, but with God’s help, we will all rise as one and create a stronger, safer, and better Puerto Rico. Whether serving food to a hungry family, or hugging someone to remind them they are loved—every hand counts.

—Majors Eric and Yolanda Rodriguez are the leaders of the USA Eastern Territory’s Puerto Rico & Virgin Islands Division