When hero Lawrence firefighters Juan “Manny”Gonzalez first heard about the hurricane devastation on the island of Puerto Rico, he said he knew he had to do something.
“Many of us here in Lawrence have friends and family in Puerto Rico including me. The death and destruction there is just so heartbreaking. Some people still can’t find their family members and loved ones. We are such a rich and giving country that we should be able to help without waiting for the government or someone else.”
Gonzalez runs a non-profit called “Heal Lawrence” which helps supply food and basic needs for Lawrence families displaced by fires in Lawrence.
“We don’t want to distract from what we are doing with Heal Lawrence, but we wanted to set up some kind of mechanism to help the people of Puerto Rico and make sure that that money or items donated get where they are supposed to go.”
Gonzalez said he and firefighter William Pagan approached the firefighters union to help out and formed a new group called ‘Firefighters United for Puerto Rico’ or LFFUPR.
He says he has also reached out to fire departments in other cities and towns to match what LFFUPR are doing and added that the Lawrence fire chief is reaching out to other chiefs across the state to see what they and their associations can do to help as well.
“I am going down there myself. I am going to fly to the island with whatever money or items are donated so we can personally make sure everything that is donated gets to the families of Lawrence of residents and those who truly need it.”
“I also met with Dr. Izedian at Dental Partners in Lawrence on South Broadway who said they want to pitch in and help raise items and money for the devastated families. It’s really heartwarming that so many people and so many businesses like Dental Partners are willing to drop everything and lend a hand to help these poor people.”
Gonzalez says that what is most needed are flashlights, batteries, toiletries, clothing, diapers and baby food. “But we will accept any item people want to drop off,” he added.
“We are also asking people to make financial donations but we want them to know that we are not going to be handing out money in Puerto Rico. What we are doing is working with The Valley Patriot to identify local people with family on the island and then finding out what specific needs they have. If they need cell phones, batteries, or some kind of special medication, we will go out and purchase those items with the donation money and then personally deliver the items when we get to the island.”
Lawrence Firefighters United for Puerto Rico is a 501(c) 3 non-profit so all financial donations are tax-deductible.
Anyone wishing to donate items or money to the relief effort can drop them off at any of the fire stations in Lawrence or can mail a check made out to Lawrence Firefighters United for Puerto Rico but mail the check to the Lawrence Firefighters Local 146, PO BOX 533 Lawrence MA, 01841.
“With what little publicity we’ve gotten on Facebook and through word of mouth we’ve already received an outpouring of support that’s pretty incredible.”
“Last night, I got a call from someone in Amesbury who wanted to know where they could send a check because they just didn’t want to donate to a large organization. People are rightly afraid to donate because, look at what happened in the Dominican Republic last year. For every 2 containers that showed up on the island the government took one. So, much of the needed supplies never reached the poor people in that country. So, now we know. We get donations and we personally supervise their delivery. That’s something I learned at the Valley Patriot’s annual charity BASH. You guys do it right and we want to build on that.”
Gonzalez says because of the lack of electricity and electronic communications on the island he couldn’t even wire money to his own sister two days ago.
“I tried sending her a WallMart MoneyGram but there is no way for them to receive it. I had to cancel the MoneyGram and send cash through the mail. I don’t think people realize there’s nothing left. There’s no place to cash a check. There’s no place to receive money transfers. There’s no way for many people to get medications or prescriptions from a doctor, or even phone service so they can call their families here in the states to tell them what they need.”
Gonzlez says that his mission to help the people of Puerto Rico will not take away from the work he is doing with Heal Lawrence and pledges to have plenty of firefighters and volunteers here in the Lawrence to help families displaced by fires while he is on the island.
“Heal Lawrence is strong and there will be people here to help while I’m away. But, this is a worthwhile endeavor and we can use all the help we can get!”
Anyone wishing to donate items or money to the relief effort can drop them off at any of the fire stations in Lawrence or can mail a check made out to Lawrence Firefighters United for Puerto Rico but mail the check to:
Lawrence Firefighters Local 146
PO BOX 533
Lawrence MA, 01841.