Students organize drive for Puerto Rico relief

Evan Robles

At 5 a.m. one November morning, most of the Maritime College freshman class lined up at the boat garage on campus to load 60 large boxes into vans. In less than an hour, the seven vehicles were loaded and on their way to JFK Airport, destined for Puerto Rico.

When hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida, Maritime students began collecting items for the relief effort.

When Maria hit Puerto Rico, things got personal for several Maritime students. Senior Marine Transportation major Evan Robles continued the effort, with support from the campus administration and alumni.

“I have family there; we went six weeks without being able to talk to my grandmother. This drive was personal to me,” Robles said. “The maritime field and our community is so specialized yet what we do is global. The merchant marine is a humanitarian service. It’s our job.”

The student collection drive was not the only outlet through which Maritime College has supported the relief. The federal government activated the college training ship, Empire State VI, to respond to the hurricanes and members of the college staff and alumni were among the ship’s professional crew. Pallets of donated goods – collected on campus and across the SUNY system – were loaded in the ship’s holds and delivered to Puerto Rico as well.

But students started their drive before the ship was activated and continued collecting items for most of the fall semester, sorting and boxing the donations as they came in. Storage space for the donations eventually took up a significant portion of the boat garage.

The campus drive’s organizers originally planned to transport the donated items the way that comes naturally for Maritime students – by ship. But the Puerto Rican ports were so backlogged with donations that they couldn’t find a carrier to take them. So Robles, with help from campus staff, got in touch with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which worked to find a plane to deliver the items.

The donations included: 14 boxes of personal hygiene items, 12 boxes of blankets and clothes, nine boxes of canned food, four pallets of water, four boxes each of paper towels and dog food, and a box of flashlights and batteries, among others.