Cans with positive messages in Spanish spotted by Linda Obernauer when dropping off donations at Teatro Yerbabruja. Photo from Linda Obernauer

By Rita J. Egan

Members of a Setauket church are doing their part to help strangers more than 1,500 miles away.

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20 and left the majority of the more than 3.4 million residents without electricity and no easy access to food and supplies, Linda Obernauer, a church elder of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said she knew something had to be done.

Obernauer, chair of the church’s Peace and Justice Committee, began working with the Central Islip-based Teatro Yerbabruja to collect donations for the victims. The theater company is a grassroots organization that strives to inspire social changes through community, art and education.

The church elder said at first friends brought donations to her home before she set up a drop-off location at Setauket Presbyterian Church. The church is collecting ready-to-eat foods, instant coffee, baby wipes, adhesive bandages and powdered milk. Obernauer said the organization has plenty of diapers and bottled water.

Donations will be sent to Puerto Rico where many streets such as this one in San Juan were flooded after Hurricane Maria. Photo from Rafael Candelaria

She said the church is deeply involved in community outreach, especially in Port Jefferson Station with their furniture bank Open Door Exchange, and recently she has met many people whose families have been affected by the hurricane and the recent earthquake in Mexico. Obernauer said she feels collections such as this one are what the congregation’s faith calls them to do.

“This is all interconnected on how we honor our neighbors when they are in need,” she said.

Obernauer said she has already transported a pickup truck filled with donations to the Central Islip organization and plans on driving another truckload this week. She said she isn’t surprised by the congregation’s generosity, as they are always quick to donate.

“I think it’s a really good community effort,” she said. “When people reach out, they are getting heard and people are helping.”

Teatro Yerbabruja’s director Margarita Espada said the nonprofit will send donations via private freight. She said the theater is currently collaborating with Suffolk County Community College and working with a few organizations in Puerto Rico that are trying to get supplies to small towns, which have been difficult to reach due to debris in the roads. Another obstacle during the first week was the Jones Act, which President Donald Trump (R) temporarily lifted Sept. 28. The act requires all goods shipped between U.S. ports to be shipped by U.S. vessels and for them to be primarily operated by Americans.

Espada said she has worked on outreach projects with Obernauer in the past, and she’s grateful for her and the church members’ help.

“I think it’s great because they are showing support for Puerto Rico,” she said.

Obernauer said items can be dropped off at the church office until Oct. 10 between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Setauket Presbyterian Church is located at 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket.

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