4 nurses volunteer in Puerto Rico
For four weeks, several groups of Volunteers of America staff traveled in shifts to Puerto Rico to help citizens affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Among those who traveled to Puerto Rico were registered nurses Rachel Lentz and Siobhan Curlis and licensed practical nurses Samantha Bianchi and Faith Scherger from Tiffin Rehabilitation Center, 48 St. Lawrence Drive.
They were dispatched as part of Project Esperanza. According to Lentz, each group spent a week interviewing citizens on their dire needs, focusing on senior communities to be sure they received medications and were in touch with doctors and families. The next week, the volunteers brought those items and made sure the residents had everything they needed.
Hurricane Maria lashed the island Oct. 3. Lentz and Curlis were in Puerto Rico Oct. 31-Nov. 7 and Bianchi and Scherger were there Nov. 13-20.
Lentz, who has been a nurse for more than 30 years, said when they reached Puerto Rico, she saw downed trees on homes, downed power lines and piles of trash on sidewalks. Many restaurants and businesses still were being run on generators.
“I just wanted to go down and help people,” Curlis said. “They are still a part of the United States and we owed them the same treatment.”
She said she was thankful and amazed the organization would be willing to pull floor staff to send with limited staffing.
“It was a good experience,” Scherger said.
One significant moment for her was when the volunteers traveled outside of the capital of San Juan to a village in the mountains where many people had been affected. She said many residents were just thankful for the jugs of water they handed out.
Scherger said many older residents wanted the water to go to younger families.
“It was very heartwarming,” she said. “We all were teary-eyed. We wish we could have given more.”
Curlis said many residents they helped were surprised they came back to deliver the items they needed.
“It was an eye opener,” Curlis said.
“It was mainly the simple things they asked for,” Scherger said. “Like toilet paper and baby wipes. Those things are high for them compared to us.”
Curlis was most impressed by people who took time away from their own damaged homes to help others in need.
“I was very touched,” Curlis said.
Curlis said they came back to Ohio after the recent tornado hit and some people were without electricity for 48 hours.
“It was just interesting to see those devastated by no electricity for two days when there were people with no electricity for months and they felt it was no big deal,” Curlis said. “They were just going on with their day.”
Scherger said she wished she could have taken her children with her to Puerto Rico.
“I brought back photos and I just wanted them to realize how good they have it here,” she said. “Many people were surviving on the bare minimum and less than bare minimum and they were happy to just have that.”
“Many take for granted” what they have, Lentz said.
“You appreciate hot showers and ice for our drinks,” she said.
Curlis, Lentz and Scherger said they want to return to Puerto Rico to see it without the effects of disaster.
Puerto Ricans still need help, including personal hygiene items, D-cell batteries, sweets and treats for the holidays, soap, hand cream and toilet paper.
For more information on Project Esperanza and how to help, visit www.voa.org/volunteers-of-america-launches-project-esperanza-to-aid-people-of-puerto-rico.