Lighting Up Puerto Rico
Our Marketing Group Manager Brad Herbert reflects on his service trip to the storm-ravaged island.
I have a special place in my heart for Puerto Rico. I fell in love with the island when I lived there as a 19-year-old: the beautiful mountains, the ocean breezes, but most of all, the people — the most happy and humble, gracious and giving people I had ever met.
That’s why I was devastated to watch as Hurricane Irma and, later, Hurricane Maria, ravaged the island, leaving 3.5 million residents in the dark. My heart sank as I saw images of houses flooded, roofs separated from walls and power lines blocking roads. I knew people were suffering and I felt helpless.
It dawned on me that there were most likely other Utahns who had a connection to the island that wanted to help. Sure enough, a group came together called “Light Up Puerto Rico” and I jumped on board. The goal was simple: bring literal and metaphorical light to Puerto Rico. Through a partnership with Tifie Humanitarian and Goal Zero, we purchased thousands of solar-powered lanterns and dozens of solar powered generators for those who needed it most.
Soon word got out and donations came pouring in. Boy Scouts dedicated their Eagle projects to creating hygiene kits for us to deliver. We partnered with companies such as Vivint, which donated an entire container full of supplies. In just a few weeks, hundreds of thousands of dollars had been donated including $10,000 from Zions Bank. Jet Blue offered to discount flights for the 40 volunteers in our group.
With two large suitcases full of solar powered flashlights, we loaded up and headed out. As we approached the island, the total devastation was immediately clear — enough so that it brought some to tears. Notwithstanding our red eye flight, we knew we needed to hit the ground running and get to work.
As we went door to door to evaluate needs and distribute supplies, we could see that the need was great. Some people had been living under a tarp. Others hadn’t had clean water in over a month. Nobody had electricity. The people we saw that day told us we were the first to come to their aid since the first hurricane had hit.
I’ll never forget the expressions of the residents as they would change from downtrodden and dejected to happy and hopeful when we gave them something as simple as a flashlight. They would turn on the lamp and their faces would light up. We gave them water filters so they could drink clean water. We built tent shelters for them. We set up solar-powered generators to power their refrigerators and run machines for individuals who had medical needs.
Pretty soon we started parking our truck in the center of the pueblo and the people would come to us. As fast as we could, we handed out boxes of food, shampoo, soap, diapers and water bottles to long lines of locals that were grateful for anything we could give them. Many would break down in tears when we told them that everything was free. They sang to us, kissed us on the cheek, and hugged us and wouldn’t let go.
For four days, we did the same thing repeatedly. The days were long and exhausting but we kept going. Any downtime felt like wasted time. As long as we were there, we wanted to help as many people as possible.
My wife and I came home from that trip different people. In some ways, we feel like we got more than we gave. They have a long road ahead of them but we were grateful to be able to deliver a glimmer of light to the island of Puerto Rico.
Brad Herbert is Zions Bank’s Marketing Group Manager.