Diapers, Toiletries Still Needed for Puerto Rican Families Who Fled to Cleveland after Quake


Spanish American Committee, 4407 Lorain Ave. - SAM ALLARD / SCENE
  • Sam Allard / Scene
  • Spanish American Committee, 4407 Lorain Ave.
As earthquakes continue to rock the island of Puerto Rico, including a magnitude-5.0 quake Tuesday morning, the Spanish American Committee in Cleveland is still attempting to provide crucial services to more than 250 individuals who traveled to Northeast Ohio after the larger magnitude-6.4 earthquake last month.

Executive Director Ramonita Vargas told Scene that an outpouring of local generosity has equipped the Spanish American Committee with an ample supply of winter coats, boots and socks. What's urgently needed now, she said, are diapers and toiletry items.

"Razors, shaving cream, sanitary napkins, shampoo, toilet paper," she rattled off items in a phone call Tuesday afternoon. "Many of these families used their last savings to leave Puerto Rico—many of them don't have homes to go back to —and are arriving without the basics. After [the earthquake on Jan. 20] people were showing in up shorts and sandals."

The SAC is the longest continually operating Hispanic social services agency in the state of Ohio. It helped more than 2,700 individuals who arrived in Cleveland after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017. The recent earthquakes, while less severe, are still leaving huge swaths of the U.S. territory without water and power. Small towns on the island's southern coast have been completely destroyed. 

When new arrivals land in Cleveland, the SAC tries to connect them to the services they need.

"We provide wraparound services," Vargas told Scene. "Jobs, housing, immediate needs. Some of them are placed in CMHA housing on the east side and don't understand where they're at. They need help just navigating the city."

SAC has a social worker and case manager on staff and provides GED classes in Spanish and weekly English as a Second Language (ESL) courses as well.

Vargas said that the majority of the newly arrived families from Puerto Rico are staying with family or friends, but that in many cases, the arrangement isn't long-term. SAC assists with the CMHA application process, but applicants are the mercy of CMHA's schedule. Vargas said SAC has a new arrangement with a company that is shipping air mattresses because several new arrivals have been sleeping on floors.

Vargas has been grateful for the donations of winter clothing over the past few weeks and said that all donations of toiletries and other essentials can be dropped off at the SAC's office at 4407 Lorain Ave. in Ohio City.

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