Sariela Bordner left Puerto Rico when she was 8 but her father, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends still live on the island, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria at the end of September.
People are living in homes without roofs, and only 16 percent of the island has power, Bordner said.
Her father lives in the San Juan area, where supplies are coming more quickly and things are getting fixed faster than other areas of the island, Bordner said. His electricity came back Oct. 31.
“It’s the smaller towns that were harder hit and slower to fix,” Bordner said.
Like many, the Puerto Rico native wanted to help.
“When I saw the devastation that Maria left behind, I knew I had to do something to help,” she said.
Unlike many, however, Bordner has a direct connection — a place to send donations that will be distributed directly to the people who need it most.
“It originally started because everybody knew I had family there, and everyone was reaching out to see what they could help with,” Bordner said.
So the military wife, mother of three, Boy Scout den leader, Girl Scout leader and teacher who lives in Bel Air put something out on social media.
She wanted to create gallon-sized care packages filled with non-perishable snacks, toiletry items, small toys, batteries, hand sanitize and baby items for families in need. Her father would personally hand deliver them to families in need.
Bordner’s goal was 50 to 100 care packages. So many donations poured in that Bordner is sending more than 500 care packages in 41 boxes to her home country.
“All those donations… Just to see how many people really wanted to do something,” Bordner said. “Everybody came out of the woodwork.”
She would come home, she said, and have packages from Amazon waiting on her doorstep.
“Donations came from Texas, Ohio, Colorado and from our community. Every day things would show up at my house with packages; some were dropped off without a name,” she said.
Her son Gabriel’s school, Prospect Mill, jumped in to help. Bordner talked with her son’s teacher who said they collections could be part of their community service unit as a way for the students to directly learn and see the impact they could have on a community not near to them.
“They alone collected and helped package a little more than 200 of the 500 bags we sent,” Bordner said.
Each child packaged two bags and wrote notes to put inside them.
Pictures Bordner’s father takes as he distributes the care packages will be shown to the students.
The band at C. Milton Wright High, where Bordner’s daughter, Isabela, is in 12th grade, also collected donations.
For weeks, her dining room table was covered with supplies, then they overtook her first floor. Three hundred to 400 deodarents in one spot, packages of diapers in a corner, baby clothes, toothpaste, first aid kits, toys from McDonald’s, coloring books, crayons, pencils — all the essential supplies.
“Everybody came out of the woodwork,” Bordner said. “What I thought was going to be a few small donations has turned out to be more than I could have imagined.”
Eventually, she said, she had to turn away donations because she wasn’t able to ship anymore.
Local Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops as well as Prospect Mill students help package the materials, which are labeled for boys, girls, male, female.
While Bordner’s father would be accepting the donations in Puerto Rico, she had to figure out how to get them there.
To send box by box through the post office would be costly and it would take three to four weeks for the supplies to arrive. Picking them up from the post office would be difficult for her father, given the conditions of the roads and buildings.
Bordner lined up a delivery through a freight company in Baltimore, Bordner said. The packages were picked up Oct. 30 and were expected to arrive at the end of this week.
Bordner put out a call to people to adopt a box that would cover the cost of shipping.
“Those donations starting coming in. We got quite a few generous donations to get the $2,000 to ship them,” Bordner said.
A large crate will be delivered to a warehouse of a produce company in a harbor in Puerto Rico. Her father’s girlfriend works for the Department of Health, and the Secretary of Health of Puerto Rico heard about the donations and wants to help her father deliver them door to door, she said.
The small town of Loiza was “pretty much completely devastated,” Bordner said.
“Almost everybody lost their homes, some are living in them without roofs,” she said.
With some of the extra money collected, she bought four generators, tarps and solar powered lanterns.
“My dad’s going to go there and go door to door and give families what they need,” she said.
“I have been really overwhelmed to see people’s generosity and kind hearts and giving hearts,” Bordner said. “They don’t know my family in Puerto Rico, bu they wanted to do something, small or big, and help out.”