by Jordan Mazza

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico – the only home the Lopez family has ever known.

“In some places we don’t have food, we don’t have water,” said Jann Lopez. “And people pass hungry. It’s bad, very, very bad. I lost my job in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria and came here to have a job, school for my kids, and better lifetime for my entire family.”

They’re among approximately 500 people so far who have moved from Puerto Rico to Rochester after the hurricane.

“They have absolutely nothing,” said Patricia Cruz-Irving of the Ibero-American Action League. “So imagine what it must be like having lost everything and then having to move somewhere else. At least they have family to come to, but still having to rebuild from the ground up.”

That’s why the Ibero-American Action League organized a welcome reception Thursday at 938 Clifford Avenue to help them acclimate to their new home and connect them with support services.

“I’m here today because they’re helping us out,” said evacuee Wanda Alaya, who moved here from Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. “And I’m so glad they have all these agencies giving us an opportunity to stand up again.”

Dozens of local and national agencies were on hand Thursday to help displaced families with housing, jobs and medical care.

“The idea is to give them one location that they can come to, so they don’t have to go to one building for one thing, one location for something else,” Cruz-Irving said. “They can come here for everything they need, and then from here, they can start to rebuild their lives.”

Agencies present included the Red Cross, the New York State Department of Labor, Foodlink, the Rochester City School District, and the Rochester Housing Authority.

The RHA says hurricane evacuees are considered a “super-preference” in getting Section 8 housing.

“They would actually come to the top of the list,” said Sandra Whitney of the Rochester Housing Authority. “So it’s a way for us to be able to get housing when that’s obviously their greatest need right now.”

Whitney says at least 20 landlords have agreed to give evacuees one or two months of free rent.

And Ibero says it will continue to operate a multi-agency resource center in the Clifford Avenue space at least one day per week.

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