While living in Florida in 1992, Omaesh Persaud learned firsthand what it was like to survive a major storm when Hurricane Andrew devastated parts of the state.
So when Glenda Ribera, the mother of two of Persaud’s students at Lynbrook Music Instruction, approached him in October with the idea of holding a supply drive and bringing donations to victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he jumped at it.
“Why not?” said Persaud, LMI’s music director. “They need help. I would greatly appreciate it if I were in that situation.” Soon after their conversation, Persaud, Ribera and her children, Gabriella Tume, 17, and Luis Carrasco, 14, began collecting supplies.
By mid-November, the music school had gathered several bags of clothing, diapers and batteries. Similar drives were also held at local supermarkets and at Memorial Junior High School and Central High School in Valley Stream. In all, about 40,000 pounds of non-perishable food was collected.
“The lobby was packed when she came with the car,” Bret Strauss, the principal of Memorial JHS, said of Ribera picking up the supplies. “There was no room in the car for the three women who came with her. She had to drop off the supplies and come back for the women.”
Ribera, who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in Valley Stream, said she planned to hold the collection drive before the full scale of the damage was known. In addition to the supply drives, she and her children waited outside local supermarkets. asking shoppers to donate non-perishable food to their cause.
The family took a weeklong trip to Puerto Rico the day after Thanksgiving, and visited a number of towns that were destroyed by Maria. Reflecting on the trip months later, as the island continues to recover, Ribera said they were shocked by what they saw. “We saw people that were going through a really, really tough time,” she said.
Gabriella, a senior at Central High School and a piano student at LMI, said she saw a tube that connected a river to water tanks at a number of houses because the residents did not have any water service after the storm. She recalled that there were also people putting up Christmas lights as a way of spreading holiday cheer to the residents.
“She broke down in tears,” Ribera said of her daughter.
The family also helped out where it could, including cooking food for residents and giving flashlights to those still without electricity. “It was a lot of work, like nobody could believe what was happening down there,” Gabriella said. “I was so happy that I was able to help them out.”
On Feb. 6, LMI shared a post on its Facebook page about the collection effort and the students going down to Puerto Rico. “Thank you so much to a couple of our wonderful students and their family for this acknowledgement!” the post read. “We’re proud and honored to have aided in the relief efforts to Puerto Rico!”
More than five months after the storm, electricity has been restored to only part of Puerto Rico. It may take several more months to repair the island’s infrastructure. Some 179,000 people fled the island after the hurricane hit last fall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It’s hard to see the suffering,” Gabriella said, “but you see how much you have, and you have to be grateful for all of it.”