Unity Awards 2018

After Hurricane Maria Devastated Puerto Rico, a Group of Sarasotans Got to Work

The need remains great, and the group has no plans to stop.

By Anu Varma January 23, 2018 Published in the February 2018 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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Ana Suarez, Dr. Myrdalis Diaz-Rmairez, Myreli Zamora

Image: SRQ Headshots

In September, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. In Sarasota, a small group of people turned off their TVs and got to work.

Within a day, retired teacher Ana Suarez began rounding up donations and volunteers. Across town, Dr. Myrdalis Diaz-Ramirez took to Facebook, where a group called Doctoras Boriquas formed and swelled to 3,000 members worldwide. At EVO Athletic Center, volleyball coach Myreli Zamora began making calls.

Soon doctors, teachers and businesspeople—all with roots in Puerto Rico—joined them, creating SRQ Helps Puerto Rico.

“We never heard the word ‘no,’” says Suarez. “People were calling us, saying, ‘What do you need?’”

Realtor Daniel Matusiak organized a fund-raising event. Kyle and Lydia Lawton, EVO Athletic owners, stored canned food, water, diapers, medicines, generators, baby needs, personal hygiene products, flashlights and clothes in their warehouse. Some supplies reached Puerto Rico as extra baggage when members of the group flew to the island right after the disaster.

By early December, 40 pallets with 40,000 pounds of supplies donated by Sarasotans arrived in Puerto Rico.

“People ask, ‘Is your family OK?’, but it’s a complex question,” says Diaz-Ramirez. “There are no resources, no jobs, no doctors. Are they OK? Well, they are alive. But life is not the way they used to live.”

And while images of Puerto Rico have mostly disappeared from newspapers and TV, the need remains great, so the group has no plans to stop. Diaz-Ramirez will focus on getting medical help to the island, while Zamora, Diaz, and Suarez’s son and daughter, Javi Suarez and Ana Santa Maria, are turning SRQ Helps Puerto Rico into a nonprofit.

“Everyone thought by now things would be better,” says Javi Suarez. “Unfortunately, they aren’t. This has to be a grassroots effort, and it has to come from people like us.”

Come celebrate present and past Unity Award winners with us at a luncheon on February 8 at Michael’s On East. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.  

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