OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Bay Area members of the National Latino Police Officers Association are holding a fundraiser and donation drive on Saturday, hoping to take much-needed supplies and donated uniforms to Puerto Rican police, still struggling to recover five months after Hurricane Maria's destruction hit the islands on September 20th last fall.
"I'm first-generation Puerto Rican. I still have a lot of family that lives in Puerto Rico," said Carlos Ruiz, a retired law enforcement officer with the Department of Justice narcotics unit.
Ruiz, Tai Peña-Honung and Steven Fajardo are all members of the NLPOA and say their visit to Puerto Rico on October 24th after the storm opened their eyes to the suffering and tremendous lack of resources.
"We saw some of the news clips of police department literally being washed away and I knew there would be a need for supplies and uniforms and equipment." Steven Fajardo, Former President of the California Latino Peace Officers Association.
Their whirlwind trip took them to 20 municipalities in 17 days, distributing donations from Bay Area law enforcement departments where they were most needed.
"These local law enforcement agencies just had jeans and t-shirts and a gun belt, and that's it. That's how they were operating,' said Ruiz, "We took reflective vests. which were really important because there's no light, no electricity in Puerto Rico, so those reflective vests were particularly important because law enforcement is a 24-hour operation."
"The people with the least, with no food, no water, no electricity were the most humble and grateful and very thankful and strong people," said Peña-Honung, an Oakland Police officer.
Now, they are hoping to return with a second round of donations. Fajardo says uniforms are most needed, along with reflective vests and batteries for flashlights. He is also hoping someone might donation police vehicles for Puerto Rican police departments that lost their vehicles in the hurricane. He says a Puerto Rican police chief has connected with a shipping company that is willing to ship donations to the island.
"It's still a crisis situation and the fact it's so far away people think "out of sight out of mind" kind of thing," said Fajardo, "We made some very good friends, people who will be our friends forever. And I look forward to going back."
The fundraiser will be Saturday February 24th at the grand opening of a new restaurant La Perla Puerto Rican Cuisine at 2020 MacArthur Boulevard in Oakland. The restaurant owner and community activist Jose Ortiz is also helping with community aid and partnering with the LPOA on a joint trip to Puerto Rico. The fundraiser starts at 12 noon and donations will be collected all day.