Five years ago this month, as the winds and rain that were to become Hurricane Maria lashed the eastern Caribbean, I sat in my office in disbelief that a second storm in less than two weeks was getting set to strike Puerto Rico. I had seen many storms hit the island before but what I did not know then was that Hurricane Maria would mark a before and after moment for all of Puerto Rico and for all Puerto Ricans.
The details of the devastation are well-known. Thousands of Puerto Ricans died in the storm. Millions were left without electrical power, a great many for nearly a year. Tens of thousands were left homeless or with damaged homes. The island’s tourism industry buckled; its agriculture was laid to waste. Schools and hospitals were destroyed. And in response to all this devastation, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans — among them my friends and family — left the island for the mainland looking not so much for new avenues of success but for a chance to survive.
Faced with a natural disaster that unleashed unprecedented destruction, the U.S. federal government failed to rise to the challenge. Politics and parsimony carried the day. In the face of government ambivalence and inaction, we had to do what we have always done in our communities: rely on one another.
We gathered supplies and delivered them where they were needed most. We provided comfort and care to people who had lost everything. With over 200,000 donations, and the extraordinary support of Lin-Manuel, Luis and the entire Miranda Family, we invested more than $50 million in the areas of emergency assistance, agriculture and environmental sustainability, housing and community development, renewable energy, healthcare access, and economic development. All of it with one goal in mind: to build a stronger and more resilient Puerto Rico.
The report you are now reading is a record of our vital work and an affirmation of the good that our collective of nonprofits, donors, and HF staff and board can achieve together. It is the commitment, generosity, and trust of this family of stakeholders that continues to make everything we do possible.
As we commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, I am reminded of the great selflessness and resiliency that Puerto Ricans have shown us over these years. They inspire us every day and remain the focus of the important work we have ahead. Please join us. Puerto Rico and its people urgently need greater charitable investments, and the ongoing support and embrace of philanthropic institutions and leaders across the U.S. Together, we can continue to affirm that ours is a community worth fighting for and that change is possible when we are united in purpose and action.
President and CEO