POMEROY/PUERTO RICO — Rotary clubs in Meigs County and Puerto Rico, along with the national Rotary are teaming up to bring light where there has been none for several weeks.
In September, the island territory of Puerto Rico was devastated by the impacts of Hurricane Maria. With 95 percent of the island’s residents without water, electric cell service or forms of communication, relief for the area was hard to come by.
While it may seem like Puerto Rico is a long way from the shores of the Ohio River, there is a unique connection between the island nation and the Pomeroy area, which also connects the Rotary clubs in the Pomeroy to the club in Arecibo.
Carolyn (Allman) Montañez grew up in Pomeroy, graduating from Pomeroy High School. After graduating, Carolyn went to New York to study art fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). It was New York where she met her husband, an engineer from Puerto Rico.
Moving to Puerto Rico, Montañez and her husband had factories in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, while she also spent 30 years teaching English. Montañez is also fluent in Spanish.
Even while living in Puerto Rico for more than 50 years, Montañez and her family made regular trips back to Pomeroy for Thanksgiving at her family home. The family still maintains her parents home in Pomeroy.
For 40 years, Montañez and her late husband have been involved with the Rotary, with Montañez joining when women were permitted to do so.
Montañez explained that in the days following Hurricane Maria she and other would have to stay in one location of the home once darkness set in as there was no way to see to move around the house.
In her 53 years on the island it was the worst she had seen. Montañez said that the storm destroyed everything, leaving residents without the ability to get basic needs such as water, food, medication and other needs. The island was paralyzed. Cash was needed to purchase any items which were available, gas was needed to get to the items, and none of that was available due to the storm.
It was dark from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., with Montañez unable to see and afraid to fall if she were to move around in her home. She, like many others, had to rely on the amount of food they had, but had no way to keep things cold. She said she survived on a half glass of water a day, rationing what she had available in her home.
When the rains came again, residents were able to collect rain water to use for bathroom and laundry usage.
Montañez had already planned to come back to the mainland United States for Thanksgiving so she went ahead with her plans and has since returned to Puerto Rico where she lives on the northern coast, about an hour from San Juan.
Unlike the mainland United States, when disaster strikes, relief supplies are able to be trucked in to the area. That is not the case with an island.
Montañez’s daughter Carolee Montañez-Allman was in Washington D.C. at the time the hurricane hit Puerto Rico working on another grant project for Rotary. When the hurricane hit and the devastation became evident, Montañez-Allman asked if the funding she was working on could be routed to a program for disaster relief. Montañez-Allman, who lives in Virginia, visits Puerto Rico regularly to be with her mother since the passing of her father. There are other family members on the island as well. When the hurricane hit it took a few weeks before Montañez-Allman was able to get a flight in to Puerto Rico to check on her mother.
Now, the Rotary Club of Arecibo (Puerto Rico) is working with other Rotary Clubs to provide solar-powered flashlights/cell phone chargers with a USB port to those in the vulnerable population on the island.
The Rotary Club of Washington D.C. provided the initial $5,000 for Phase I of the project, with Phase II launched in late November. Phase I covered the first 100 lights to be sent to the island. The Rotary worked with Governor Ricardo Rosello of Puerto Rico in facilitating some of the distribution efforts through appointed state officials.
While distributing the lights for Phase I, the group came across many disabled and elderly who could not technically operate or afford fuel-powered generators. The battery lights which were being used would run down quickly, with batteries not available. Candles were also used, but could be a fire hazard and did not provide much light.
The lights provided through the Rotary project provide about 10 hours of light from a single charge, and last approximately seven years should the lights be needed during future outages.
While batteries, fuel and other energy sources are in short supply on the island, the sun is frequently shining, making the solar lights of the project more useful than many others.
The goal for fundraising in Phase II is $50,000 which would allow for the distribution of 5,000 free light/chargers to the elderly and disabled, particularly in rural areas.
Montañez and Montañez-Allman recently met with the Pomeroy-Middleport Rotary who has agreed to serve as the fiscal agent for Phase II of the project, accepting donations to enable the purchase of the lights.
The Rotary Club of Weston, West Virginia, was also among the first to join in the efforts on the project “Light for Puerto Rico,” donating $500 for the cause.
Donations may be made through the Go Fund Me page which has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/Arecibo-Rotary-Club-Light-for-Puerto-Rico
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.