Called to help displaced Puerto Ricans now living in Rochester, NY
On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma swept across Puerto Rico, killing 16 people, destroying homes, and leaving many residents without electricity. Just two weeks later, an even more destructive Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, leaving a much higher death toll, and this time, hundreds of thousands of residents were displaced.
UMCOR and other mission teams are traveling to Puerto Rico and engaging in continuous disaster relief. If you are unable to or untrained to become involved in disaster relief, there is another way that you can help—you can assist displaced Puerto Ricans who now live in Upstate New York. For example, more than 500 Puerto Ricans have moved to Rochester to live with family members since September. Many of these families are supported by public assistance and they do not have the resources to help their beloved family members beyond providing shelter.
In early November 2017, Hector Rivera, pastor at LeRoy UMC and Aldersgate UMC, as well as leader of the New Faith Community Aldersgate: Hispanic UMC, and Anne O’Connor senior pastor at Aldersgate UMC, were contacted by, a newly formed non-profit organization comprised of residents in Rochester, NY.
Puerto Ricans United in the Distance helps Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Rochester, NY, after the devastation they experienced from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Essentially, this organization helps the Puerto Ricans transition into the community by partnering with other human serving agencies in the fields of housing, education, legal, clothing, food, employment, and other supporting services.
Pastors Rivera and O’Connor were asked if they had space at Aldersgate for a food pantry and if they would be able to host a Thanksgiving and Christmas gathering for the Puerto Rican families. Pastors Rivera and O’Connor agreed. Happy to have doors, minds and hearts open to serve the community. Pastor Rivera has gone far beyond the initial request with the help of many volunteers.
Immediately, a food pantry was set up at Aldersgate. The food pantry is open to anyone in need of food on Wednesdays from 4-7 p.m. or as needed. Dior, a volunteer said, “I feel good when I can help families in need, provide for their children, and experience God’s love. “
Soon after, with the help of Sumarie Lopez, Miguel Lopez, and Yolanda Morales, members of Aldersgate Hispanic UMC, a Thanksgiving celebration was held at the church for the Puerto Rican families. About 50 persons attended this beautiful gathering. This celebration included Thanksgiving Worship Service, a cultural dinner, and fellowship.
To further meet the needs of the new population of Puerto Rican families, LeRoy UMC has also established a clothing closet with a lot of winter attire, very much needed this frigid winter.
Pastor Rivera and his wife Maria started a new English as a Second Language (ESL) classes to suit the needs of the Puerto Rican families, at Aldersgate as well. Maria teaches the classes. Transportation is provided to and from the classes; nursery services are also provided during the classes.
About the classes, Maria said “I am so excited! Teaching the newcomers is an exciting fulfilling experience and very rewarding. It is so great to see how our students are learning English language skills while celebrating their culture. They will learn English for work, home, and for survival within their new environment. Our students are highly motivated and supportive of one another as they discover their place in the new community.”
One student, Marie said, “I like the classes and my teacher Maria, she has a great sense of humor.”
A new student, Marta said,” I have a hard time pronouncing some words. But I am not giving up because I like it here.”
Grace, also one of Maria’s ESL students said, “I am learning a lot of words that will help me get around to the bank, stores, hospital and of when ordering in the restaurant where I can now ask for more than ‘ham and eggs.’”
New student Yolanda said, “I enjoy being with my classmates and we learn so much from each other.”
On Dec. 23, 2017 Aldersgate Hispanic UMC hosted a wonderful Christmas celebration for the displaced Puerto Rican families. There was a spectacular array of cultural food, cultural music, incredible fellowship, gifts for the children, and a visit from Santa Claus!
Pastor Rivera said, “It’s a great feeling when we have regular attenders (of the newly arrived Puerto Ricans) at every Sunday services, and to have many attend special events during the year, but when I saw a great deal of neighbors attending this year’s Christmas event, as a way to find healing after experiencing the effect of Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico, I was in awe.
So many families and children came together during this time; it was a great opportunity for the church and the Puerto Ricans United in the Distance organization to provide the visiting families and their children with winter clothing, grocery bags filled with groceries, and of course the most expected Christmas gift from Santa.”
It’s amazing how the Lord calls upon us to help people in distress. To learn more or to help with this ministry, contact Pastor Hector Rivera at 585-802-0998 or firstname.lastname@example.org.