The stretch of Aldus Street between Southern Boulevard and Hoe Avenue was filled with mountains of food, clothes and supplies on the last Saturday of September, as people from around the neighborhood convened in support for Puerto Rico and Mexico disaster relief.
Volunteers and supplies started arriving as early as 8 a.m., and cars lined the street for nearly two blocks at a time, waiting for volunteers to race to them with pallets and carts, unload supplies, and haul them to the trucks that waited down the block. There was constant motion, as live musicians played on a platform above the droves of volunteers transporting supplies. The event was a group effort organized by the Hispanic Clergy Coalition in conjunction with Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., State Senator Rubén Díaz Sr. and Councilmember Rafael Salamanca Jr., as well as Bronx rapper Fat Joe.
“It’s a situation of devastation but everyone is in such good spirits,” said John DeSio, the communications director for the Bronx borough president. “It feels as if they are directly helping their own families.”
That was the case for Victoria Doltero, a New York University social work student whose grandmother and two uncles live in Puerto Rico. She had been volunteering since 10 a.m. and paused to rest for a few minutes; but when she saw a large passenger SUV begin to dock with dozens of water crates, she got back to work hauling that water crates onto carts. By 1:30 p.m., six trucks were filled.
“It doesn’t matter that I’m tired,” said Doltero. “There’s no help. On the news they just highlight places like San Juan, but there’s no help for smaller places and places in the mountains.” Currently, she cannot get in contact with her family members in Puerto Rico.
Bronx rapper Fat Joe contacted the Bronx borough president himself to request to pay for the trucks that will transport the contents to airports to be distributed in local churches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. Fat Joe also hosted a donation event on the same weekend in the Jacob Javits Center and gathered nearly 200,000 pounds of supplies there.
Volunteers were encouraged to sign up at a table at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Aldus Street to receive a blue shirt from coordinators and then get to work unloading goods. Hundreds signed up in advance, but dozens of other volunteers joined them. People passing by on the street stayed to help transport materials, and store owners even came outside to lend pallets, pulleys and carts. Cars lined the boulevard, loaded with perishable food, clothing and batteries.
Cars from P.S. 97 in Pelham Gardens rolled out in droves with parents and teachers. Waiting in line was Assistant Principal Danielle Civitano and her mother, Angela.
“We sent a notice out to the parents — there’s seven cars here from us,” said Civitano, who pulled up the car to the loading dock as her mother checked out the line from outside. The notice asked for donations for items like solar lights, bug spray and portable phone chargers along with clothes and water and urged parents that the “slightest thing to us can be lifesaving to them.” When they finished unloading, volunteers thanked them with smiles and applause, as they did for every donation.
Water was the main donation item; one entire truck was filled with bottles alone. In fact, the collected stacks of water bottles were so high they reached volunteers’ chests as they loaded them onto the trucks. Other supplies came in towering loads: feminine products, electronics to hear news and building supplies.
According to DeSio, the needs for each nation are different. Puerto Rico suffered a category 5 storm and Mexico suffered a series of earthquakes. According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, relief is equally needed in all forms, but there is stressed need for gathering drinking water and personal items in a hurricane – also with the warnings of preparations against mold and loss of power. Earthquake relief stresses a need for first aid materials and protection in case of fires.
As the day wound down, the volunteer stations ran out of T-shirts, but that didn’t matter to the stream of helpers. People still pitched in to help — including passing truck drivers who stepped out of their vehicles to lend a hand. Goods were transported down the streets in shopping carts, shopping bags, push-trolleys, or simply in the hands of volunteers. A hill of garbage bags filled with clothes grew in front of the volunteer station and anyone passing by had to climb over it.
At 2 p.m., a White Rose Grocery 18-wheeler coming from Rockland County pulled onto the street. Volunteers, with the help of police officers, rushed to the truck door to pass down boxes of supplies to the carts below. In the center of Aldus Street, a small band of musicians played reggaeton to the dozens of people cheering on the volunteers from the crowded curb. When they were finished unloading the truck, they paused briefly to thank the driver. Volunteers quickly rested and leaned on the White Rose logo “You Deserve The Best!” written on trucks in colors similar to the Puerto Rican flags that lined the street behind them. After applauding the driver and waving goodbye, they braced themselves for the next truck, carts and pallets in hand, and kept working.