Editorial: In the face of tragedy, Franklin Co. comes through

  • Magda Ponce-Castro with some of the solar powered inflatable lamps she sent to Puerto Rico to help residents recover from the hurricane. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Friday, November 03, 2017

More than a month after disaster struck, the numbers surrounding the impact of the Category 4 Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico are staggering: More than 900 dead, directly or indirectly; roughly 70 percent of the U.S. territory remains without power; and roughly 20 percent still don’t have access to water, and officials warn that those who do have water service still need to boil it before drinking it.

To say the situation remains dire is an understatement. And islanders need all the help they can get.

In Franklin County, we have long known this to be true, but once again, locals have responded in several ways to help those devastated by nature’s fury.

On Oct. 16, a joint team of seven Franklin County emergency managers and three Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency responders left for Puerto Rico to assist in hurricane relief efforts. Over two weeks, the team will help coordinate emergency aid — food, supplies, services — for those in need across the island.

“Collectively, they have decades of experience managing complex incidents,” according to a press release from the Northwest Massachusetts Incident Management Team, a regional agency that coordinates response to emergency situations.

This is not the first time this team has been dispatched to other areas of the country. A few years ago, team members went to New York City to help Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

But help hasn’t just come from those trained to deal with emergencies. Recently, Greenfield High School students, some of whom have family members on the island, set out to raise $500 to help its citizens. They exceeded their goal, raising $600 in just one minute in a fundraising style called “Miracle Minute.”

Dakin Humane Society in Leverett took in cats displaced from Puerto Rico, just weeks after taking in animals without homes following Hurricane Harvey.

“There are no state lines during a disaster. We work together as one for the best possible outcome,” said Dakin Humane Society’s Executive Director Carmine DiCenso.

And let’s not forget Northfield resident Magda Ponce-Castro’s efforts to send solar lights to her native island. It took more than 10 days to hear from her mom and she had a difficult time reaching her friends. She did hear from one friend who fled to Colorado after the storm.

“I have a friend, all the window casings were thrown inside the house,” she said.

Ponce-Castro was hoping to send a few lights to Puerto Rico, but her fundraiser proved so popular, that she ordered at least 450 lights, which provide 18 hours of light once fully charged.

“It gives me goosebumps just to think about it,” she said. “It’s amazing ... People give me $100 checks in my name! They don’t even know me!”

While Ponce-Castro was surprised by the level of generosity of the residents of the poorest county in the state, we see it here regularly in Franklin County after families lose their homes and all their possessions to fire, and from those who give to the Greenfield Recorder’s own charity, Warm the Children, which gives winter clothing to families in need.

We may not be the richest area of Massachusetts, but we are certainly giving of our time, energy and what money we have to spare to help our fellow citizens. We never fail to be in awe of your generosity.