Natalie’s News: Family First

Natalie Guarino, Managing Editor

On a recent Saturday night, I was at a Blackhawks preseason game with fellow senior Mireya Garcia. After pretending I knew what was going on in the game, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a picture that caught my attention.

It was a post from the famed OPRF Activities account highlighting a supply drive for Puerto Rico victims taking place the next day at OPRF.

Mireya and her family were the organizers. My friends and I turned to Mireya in confusion. “What drive?” we asked.

“Oh yeah,” Mireya said nonchalantly. “My family decided to do a fundraiser for Puerto Rico. My uncle is taking a plane out this week.”

Mireya’s uncle, Luis Quiñones, was flying out to Puerto Rico Oct. 5 as one of 22 Chicago firefighters and paramedics who volunteered to assist the recovery effort. The Saturday before he left, Mireya and her mom, Gloria Quiñones-Garcia, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to send supplies from the Oak Park community. They looked for a wide range of essential items, from toilet paper to batteries to baby food.

Although the Garcias are some of the most caring people I know, this drive meant more to them than their other charity endeavors.

The family has direct ties to Puerto Rico. Mrs. Garcia’s parents were born and raised there, and she still has a lot of family on the island. Mireya and her two brothers have visited many times to see family and visit the place their grandparents grew up.

Mireya last went to Puerto Rico at 13.  “It was the most memorable vacation I’ve had,” Mireya said. She loves the island for its beauty and culture.

Her family’s pride in Puerto Rico is hard to miss: a Puerto Rican flag hangs from the rearview mirror in Mrs. Garcia’s car.

So when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20, the Garcias were distressed. Mrs. Garcia said her family felt helpless after hearing about the devastation. “When we didn’t hear from family members for some time after the storm, it was extremely concerning.”  Mrs. Garcia and Mireya were anxious to take action, and knew other Oak Parkers would be eager to help.

The drive came together in less than 24 hours, but its outcome was staggering.

“The support from the community for the drive was absolutely overwhelming and humbling,” said Mrs. Garcia. “Given the chance, everyone came out, came together for a common cause, and were amazing.” Community members spread the word about the drive, from Mireya’s volleyball coach Kelly Collins to Student Activities Director Susan Johnson.

The fundraiser was such a success that the next day the entire Garcia family could be found sorting through the supplies consumimg their garage. Almost 50 boxes of supplies were collected, filling 12 pallets.

Mireya was shocked by the community’s response. “How much we raised was awesome,” she said.

Now, almost a month after the drive, the Garcias are still looking for ways to help the island.

Luis Quiñones returned Oct. 14 with sad news about the island. He described it as “barren and destitute” and emphasized the people in need of help.

Three weeks after the hurricane, the Garcias got in contact with the last member of their family. They are all safe, but most are still without power and running water. “One family member indicated that they have to go out to a creek every morning to collect water,” Mrs. Garcia said.

However, the Garcias aren’t done helping their family and fellow Americans. Mrs. Garcia is in contact with another group who is collecting funds to help with relief efforts. In Puerto Rico, the Garcia’s relatives remain optimistic. “My relatives are living by the motto ‘Nuestra isla se levanta,’ Mrs. Garcia told me. “It means ‘Our island rises.’ They will remain on the island and rebuild their lives.”

The impact Mireya and her mom made in such a short time is crazy to think about. I hope their actions can inspire others to make a difference on a local level, because it can go a long way.