44th Annual MLK Celebration Leadership Award Recipient: Association of Puerto Rican Students (APR)

Association of Puerto Rican Students (APR)

Caribbean Initiative

44th Annual MLK Leadership Award

Nicole Cooper | Division of Student Life
November 9, 2017

Last month, the MIT Association of Puerto Rican Students organized a three-day donation drive to help Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

With an entire population affected by loss of electricity, shortages of food and water, and the inability to contact family members, two members of the MIT Association of Puerto Rican Students, seniors Gabriel Ginorio and William Rodriguez, decided to utilize resources on campus to help.

“When we saw pictures of the flooding, people losing their homes and just the figures, we wanted to take action in some tangible way,” Rodriguez says.

First, Ginorio and Rodriguez did research to locate any ongoing hurricane relief donation drives being held in the Boston area. They found an organization called Puerto Rico Rises – Boston, and were told that they were unable to send donations to Puerto Rico because the island’s ports were clogged. Due to a lack of truck drivers to distribute items, and debris blockage in the streets, it was difficult to transport donations from the port to those in need.

“In that moment,” Ginorio recalls, “I said, ‘We won’t be able to do the supply drive. We don’t have any storage for a month. How can we store something for a month? That’s not worth it.’”

The possibility of a donation drive at MIT came to fruition when Ginorio and Rodriguez got into contact with Henry Monroig, a pastor in Dorchester, Massachusetts who was taking time off from work to collect and deliver donations to Puerto Rico. Monroig had created a Facebook video about the difficulty of trying to send a pallet to the island. Curt Schilling, a former Red Sox player, came across it and offered to help Monroig with the cost of transporting the donations.

“Henry immediately became the only option to send materials to Puerto Rico in the whole Boston area,” Ginorio says. “So, we put faith in him and said, ‘You know what? We’re going to do this drive.’”

The group organized a Venmo account for monetary donations and set-up a table collecting donations outside of the Stratton Student Center. Once the group started advertising, MIT students, staff, and faculty responded with tremendous enthusiasm and generosity. “We had an amazing — overwhelming, really — amount of support from the MIT community,” says Ginorio.

In total, they raised more than $5,700 in monetary donations and 6,000 pounds of in-kind donations, which have served over 5,000 people in need on the island. “It was really an expression of the generosity of the MIT community,” Rodriguez says.

Support from the Institute did not end here. On the last day of the drive, Monroig was unable to pick up the final batch of donations. An MIT Police officer called the MIT Parking and Transportation Office and asked them if anyone would be willing to deliver the items to Monroig outside of their working hours.

“They are just about to leave for their homes and we’re asking them to make another one and a half hour trip to go deliver and come back,” explains Ginorio, “and amazingly, they showed up with the brightest smiles on their faces, willing to help, willing to put every supply into the trucks.”

MIT’s Office of Student Support and Wellbeing offers all MIT students support by providing individualized services, coordinating resources, and offering innovative prevention and education programs. Whether it be a tough academic week or a natural disaster, staff are commited to helping all students in times of need.

David Randall, senior associate dean of student support and wellbeing, says, “The MIT community is incredibly resilient and incredibly compassionate. It rallies around itself when there is tragedy on campus and it thinks about the world when there is tragedy away from MIT.”

Randall says each student in the Institute is inherently a problem-solver, and he recalls a conversation he had with a group of Puerto Rican students about the lack of fresh drinking water on the island. “They didn’t want to talk about getting bottles of water to Puerto Rico because anybody could do that. They wanted to solve the problem. And that’s what makes MIT different than every other place.”

Ginorio and Rodriguez have also created a website where members of the community can collaborate and learn more about what they can do to further help Puerto Rico.