San Juan & nonprofits join forces to bring meals to residents in need
Mayor greenlights community kitchen project that will supply food during emergencies
By RICHARD GUTIÉRREZ
During hurricane season it is especially important to keep a stock of various supplies that will inevitably help the cause during a time when many supermarkets, restaurants, including fast food outlets, will most likely be closed due to an emergency. Items also become quite scarce during such times because more and more people buy them when a hurricane or storm is approaching.
Every year, Puerto Rico is on the lookout for atmospheric events, and the month of September is the most dangerous in terms of the Atlantic hurricane season. This is the time of year when the most storms happen. Even though the stores are filled with people just before a hurricane, many of whom buy loads of canned food before atmospheric events, sometimes people don’t have the resources to make hot food, whether it be a case of elderly people who have a hard time cooking or don’t have a gas stove, or simply people who weren’t able to stock up on supplies on time.
Whichever the case, it is evident that food is an important piece of the puzzle and San Juan, the most populated municipality on the island, must keep this in mind. The city already has the help of many church groups and nonprofit organizations whose mission is to serve people hot food. As of Monday, the municipality is teaming up with many of those nonprofits in order to bring food to communities that need it the most.
Without hesitation and with an investment of $120,000, San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo signed a collaborative agreement with 11 nonprofit entities that will boost the number of community kitchens in the island capital to 12.
“This agreement consists of the preparation and distribution of prepared foods to people in need after emergencies,” Romero Lugo said Monday during a press conference at city hall. “Our municipality will provide supplies and materials, while each of the 11 entities will be responsible for the storage and preparation of the food prepared for the beneficiaries.”
Additionally, it was reported at the press conference that the initiative is a collaboration among the Municipal Office for Emergency Management, the Department of Community Social Development and the Faith-Based Office with the purpose of guaranteeing the delivery of food prepared in cases of emergencies to San Juan residents with few resources.
The mayor added that “with this project, we will be able to assist 18 sectors of San Juan, distributing 13,350 prepared meals daily, once the agreement with the 11 kitchens has been completed.”
“We carried out this initiative last year during the [Hurricane] Fiona emergency,” Romero Lugo said. “Now, we formalize the agreement and processes to be able to serve our residents during any emergency.”
As part of the agreement, the Municipality of San Juan will be offering a course on food management to three members or volunteers from each of the participating community kitchen organizations. The community kitchens are sited at strategic points, so that the areas with the greatest need can be covered. They are located in Caimito, Cupey, El Cinco, Santurce, Pueblo, Piñero, Universidad, Oriente, Tortugo, Hato Rey Central, Hato Rey Norte, Sabana Llana Norte, Sabana Llana Sur, Barrio Monacillo, Monacillo Urbano, Quebrada Arenas and Old San Juan.
Most of the kitchens have cisterns and emergency power such as solar panels and an electric or gas generator.
Some of the entities that signed the agreement were: Hogar Crea Las Américas, Hogar Crea Venezuela, Hogar Crea Mujeres, Hogar Crea Tortugo, LEAP Academy, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Centro de Blessión, Litheda Adventist Church, ADRA Puerto Rico East and the Baptist Church of Río Piedras.
Romero Lugo reiterated that the effort has been evolving on an ongoing basis since he has been in office.
“I don’t think there’s been any obstacles; I think there’s only been an interest to collaborate and work together,” the mayor told the STAR. “Churches especially have a mission and an interest to serve people. … That is in keeping with our interest as a municipality in having a larger response capacity.”
“The municipality has a limitation of human resources, and a limitation in terms of the knowledge of what particular situation is happening in every community,” he added. “It is thanks to community aid entities that we are able to achieve much more.”
In other words, the municipality recognizes its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, where the municipality can’t respond, the churches and nonprofits can step in.
“Getting everything ready takes time,” Romero Lugo acknowledged. “It took some time to obtain ambulances and solar panels and other necessary equipment for emergency situations. The religious nonprofits have always been there and I have no doubt that their interest is genuine. However, we wanted to make sure that their kitchens were ready 100%, so getting all of that ready has taken some time. Keeping these things in top shape is important so that we can provide good service for perhaps thousands of people when events happen.”