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'Sota-Ricans Say Help Still Desperately Needed

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The death toll in Puerto Rico is still rising in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Maria, and Minnesotans are finding ways to help. (Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/Flickr)
The death toll in Puerto Rico is still rising in the wake of flooding from Hurricane Maria, and Minnesotans are finding ways to help. (Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/Flickr)
 By Laurie SternContact
October 16, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. - A jam session this week in St. Paul will raise money to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, which hit almost a month ago.

The death toll still is climbing and most of the island still is desperate for safe drinking water. Musician Maria Isa Pérez-Hedges, who calls herself a 'Sota-Rican, has been organizing donations to El Fondo Boricua. Borikén is the indigenous name for Puerto Rico.

"El Fondo Boricua is right now focusing 100 percent on hurricane relief - medicine and shelter and elecrticity, water - those essential things to just be able to live," she said. "And then, the future of the long-term goals are rebuilding."

Pérez-Hedges is among musicians who will perform starting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Black Dog Cafe in downtown St. Paul as part of the fundraiser for El Fondo Boricua. The St. Paul Foundation administers the fund, and the donation page is on its website.

Some of Thursday's performers have relatives on the island. Pérez-Hedges just got through to a great aunt last week.

"There's never been anything this fearful that she's experienced in her 82 years of life," she said. "The island has been devastated. There's a major exodus happening."

Pérez-Hedges said the hurricane was a wake-up call to Americans who might have forgotten that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, too. Her father and grandfather were veterans, and she described her whole family as "hard-working taxpayers." She said people may not realize that, although Puerto Rico is poor, it was in tropical bounty.

"Avocados, mangoes, plantains, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, tobacco, coffee," she said. "Everything that was grown there is completely wiped out."

She said she's been moved and encouraged by an outpouring of support from fellow musicians, labor unions and small businesses that have helped with fundraising.

More information is online at givemn.org.

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