As locals with ties to Puerto Rico worry about the island, they launch campaign to help

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The devastation in Puerto Rico has many in Huntsville concerned about their home and loved ones.

Jossie Beltran, realtor and General Manager of Dolce Pan Bakery in Huntsville, said it keeps her up at night. She has family on the island, and spent some of her childhood there growing up.

"I haven't heard from my aunt, who is in a coastal area. I heard from my nephew and I heard from my uncle," she said.

Beltran spends her days at the restaurant, where they make Puerto Rican food. It is one of her passions to share what she loves about Puerto Rico with others.

Some of her customers shared stories of concern with us, too. Some have had homes destroyed. Others are still waiting to hear from loved ones, themselves, or are waiting for their family members or friends to be able to fly out of Puerto Rico.

"It's like my mind and spirit is in Puerto Rico," said Sonia Burnett, realtor and President of Hispanic Business Alliance of North Alabama. "There are communication problems because power and cell towers are down, water is hard to find. Even though they've survived the storm and we are glad, we are also worried about their survival and their care."

A group of Puerto Ricans and concerned citizens of Huntsville say they are organizing to do something to make a difference in the hurricane-ravaged island.

"We have to do something," said Beltran, with tears in her eyes. "It's my country. We are Americans. So, you know, we had to do something. Thank you, Alabama, for everything you are doing. Everyone has asked how they can help."

Now, she has an answer for how people can help.

The group has launched a campaign with the American Red Cross to raise money for an emergency response vehicle to send to Puerto Rico. Beltran said it is money that will make the biggest difference right now, as it has been difficult to get items and other products to the island for relief.

The American Red Cross donation page reads:

"The cost of a new ERV is $150,000 -- which includes 5 years of gas and maintenance costs. We are pleased to announce an anonymous donor has pledged a $15,000 matching gift towards the purchase of a new ERV for Puerto Rico! Currently, the only ERV on the island is damaged and not repairable."

Dolce Pan Bakery is where the citizens are meeting to continue to plan how to help Puerto Rico.

There is a new Facebook group to show support in Alabama for Puerto Rico, too.

Next weekend, the community will continue to come together at Huntsville West to celebrate Latin heritage at Rumba Latina HSV. The event, sponsored by the Hispanic Business Alliance of North Alabama - Hibana, is about dancing, fund raising, food, and celebrating National Hispanic Awareness Month. They will use the opportunity to think of Puerto Rico and Mexico in the wake of recent disasters.

"We are uniting as a Latino/Hispanic community and asking all citizens to collaborate and help out with these efforts," said Burnett.