After September 20, 2017, Vanessa and Geoff quickly began mobilizing supplies and resources to help those affected by the Category 4 Hurricane Maria, which raked the entire island of Puerto Rico. As the resulting power outage impacted every single person on the island for several months, we began a campaign to bring needed supplies to the island. We were able to generate several thousands of dollars in support, which we used to purchase generators, chainsaws, water filters, bug spray, solar powered lanterns, hand sanitizer, batteries, flashlights, vitamins, and baby supplies. We took several trips down to the island in the months after the hurricane hit. The first trip, just a week and a half after the storm, was mind blowing. The island appeared as though it had been hit by a bomb. Trees were bare, roofs were ripped off buildings, street signs were uprooted, and there was an eerie hum that was permeating because of the use of generators for power. It was awful. Over the next several months, the island regained its composure. Slowly, utilities began to reappear. Nearly eight months later, there are still people on the island without power nor running water.
The hurricane was a real eye opener for both Vanessa and Geoff, and it really made us evaluate what we as humans are doing to assist those in need. To this end, we continue to help communities throughout the island. Our biggest project thus far has been implemented at Degree 18 Juice Bar in Palmer, Puerto Rico. The juice bar, owned by Charlie Peterson and Kelly Hassberger, became a de facto community center immediately after the hurricane. As we were collecting donations in the storm’s aftermath, an individual donated a high capacity reverse osmosis water purification unit. Geoff contacted the company, Hydrologic Purification Systems, and asked about additional equipment that could be used to help the folks on the island. Hydrologic gracious donated additional water filtration and purification equipment to ensure that at least 1000 gallons of clean water could be produced very day. With additional donations, Geoff and Charlie were able to set up a rain catchment system. Thus, in the face of an emergency response, Degree 18 Juice Bar can effectively produce enough water for 1000 people a day. The source of this water can be rainwater, municipal water, or even river water. Our final phase of fundraising for that project will go towards implementing a solar electric system to ensure that the water will be able to be filtered without the use of any fossil fuels.
As we completed the water filtration portion of the Degree 18 project, we began looking for additional sites where we could implement similar systems. While looking for locations, Geoff was introduced to Paul Sturm of Ridge to Reefs, a 501(c)3 non profit that was doing similar work on the island. They had already installed several rainwater harvesting systems similar to the one installed by Geoff and Charlie, and they were looking for a partner to help with water filtration and purification. Geoff approached Hydrologic Systems again for assistance, and again they stepped up and donated filtration and purification equipment. The second unit was installed at Manuel Surillo Elementary School in Humacao, Puerto Rico – the area where the hurricane eye wall came onshore. The unit was tied into the rainwater catchment system installed previously by Ridge to Reefs. Unfortunately, as Puerto Rico’s economy has been decimated, it has been forced to close hundreds of schools on the island. Manuel Surillo was not spared from the closings. The system was recovered and reinstalled at a place called Siembra Vida’s in Rincon, Puerto Rico. At Siembra Vida there is a small organic farm that produce food for a community run farm to table food truck.
Hurricane season is quickly approaching again in Puerto Rico and the entire Caribbean. We are trying to get more of these water systems set up around the island to make the people more resilient to natural disasters. We also would like to reduce the dependance on bottled water and all of the problems that come with it. Not only is shipping water highly inefficient due to its weight, but it also creates a deluge of used plastic bottles that take decades to break down. If anyone would like to contribute to our efforts, please visit our gofundme page or check out Ridge to Reefs.
In the meantime, we will be offering various opportunities in which we will be offering goods and services whose proceeds from the sale of these goods will be used to fund clean water, sustainable agriculture, and child safety on the island.