Hurricane Maria: A Deep Dose of Urgent Needs in the Aftermath

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The purpose of this call was to update interested funders on the current status of unmet rescue and recovery needs identified by the community foundations and FEMA teams on the ground in the U.S. Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Maria.

The Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) and Fundacion Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico) joined FEMA’s Assistant Director of Recovery to discuss where the needs are the greatest and how foundations can direct their efforts to quickly help. 

The speakers provided real-time context surrounding Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, having been severely impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria -- suffering crippling blows from two Category 5 hurricanes within a 2-week span, and further complicating an already dire economic/social situation in the Territory (See New York Times Article, Hurricane Maria Drowned What Irma didn't Destroy).

  • CFVI is now the primary "channel" for funds flowing to the USVI and has been tapped to work with the Government of the Virgin Islands and its VI Recovery Task Force to make determinations about strategically applying the funds toward immediate relief and long-term recovery and renewal. 
  • Community Foundation of Puerto Rico faces catastrophic level devastation across the island, facing basic necessities like drinking water and lines of communication.
  • FEMA now reports a worsening situation in an already volatile Southern Florida bracing for those fleeing the ravaged islands and taking temporary shelter on mainland.  

Questions Raised on the Call

Are US community foundations able to give to the Puerto Rico Community Foundation without conducting expenditure responsibility. Also, Virgin Islands Community Foundation?

Foundations are US-recognized 501(c)(3) public charities, and therefore, due diligence such as expenditure responsibility or getting an equivalency determination is not necessary.


Is there a way to direct grants or DAFs to give to Unidos por Puerto Rico? Since it isn’t a 501(c)3, we’re not sure how to make that happen.

You may make the grant from a DAF, but because the Unidos por Puerto Rico is not a recognized 501(c)(3), you will be required to exercise expenditure responsibility or get an equivalency determination to ensure the grant will be used for charitable purposes.

While they have applied for 501c3, Hispanics in Philanthropy and other authorities on channeling dollars for immediate relief to PR are strongly recommending gifts to the Community Foundation or the network of foundations in PR, specifically given they have their 501c3 status. We understand this fund is set up by First Lady of PR and is PR recipient of Obama/Clinton/Bush fund for hurricane relief (hence the interest). 

As my colleagues have said and what you have already been directing donors, the recommendation is to make grants to the community foundation or IRS recognized public charities.


El Puente and the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) are working to bring emergency solar electric power to Puerto Rico right now.  Would investing in this effort be something you recommend? 

Yes. We should be focusing on how to use our available resources to produce renewable energy and water. Actually it is in our Renew phase, to build a grant portfolio to support non-profits that are willing to work on these type of initiatives. We are already supporting an organization that is interested in developing a community managed microgrid.


Who would Nelson identify as key journalism, communications, media or story telling resources mainland philanthropy should be considering partnering with in order to better get the story out on what is happening in PR? 

There is a mainstream news reporter he is very enthusiastic about, because of her sensible understanding community needs and because she understands the philanthropic approach many of foundations undertake, Ana Navarro, from CNN.

But aside from that, Puerto Rico gets very little recognition on philanthropic media such as: Chronicle of Philanthropy, Philanthropy News and Independent Sector. Any help, building bridges with these media venues, it is much appreciated.


Who are the most valuable and credible NGOs outside Puerto Rico getting needed relief supplies to the island and effectively helping on the ground in true partnership with local NGOs?

We’ve received many approaches from different non-profits, civic groups and foundations. Our experience tells us, that the most reliable ones, are community foundations. Because of the support of: Community Foundation of New Jersey, Pittsburgh Foundation, Knight Foundation, Community Foundation of Collier, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, San Diego Foundation, we have been able to start our Recovery Grants Program, within a week of the hurricane.


How are supplies getting to outlining communities when they have become so cut off?

Currently it is a huge issue, because of lack of communications (transit and telecommunications) within rural areas of Puerto Rico, not need to say, the most vulnerable communities.

We are planning on developing some sort of community regional centers – partnering with community based organizations - where we can provide access to essentials to the communities in that region.

We are planning on developing a structure of officers, which are some sort couriers that could communicate among the regions. We should see some progress on these PRCommunity Foundation’s strategies during the next weeks.


Speakers

Alex Amparo
Assistant Administrator for Recovery, Office of Response and Recovery   
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Dr. Nelson I. Colon
President and CEO
Puerto Rico Community Foundation

Stephanie Powers (Moderator)
Senior Director Policy and Partnerships
Council on Foundations

Anna Wheatley Scarbriel, Ph.D.
Program Director
Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands

Deanna J. James
Executive Director
St. Croix Foundation