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Locals plan trip to Puerto Rico in effort to aid victims of Hurricane Maria

Mullica Hill resident Ida Yurgin and her family will travel to the U.S. territory to personally deliver goods and supplies

Puerto Rico was devastated after the impact of Hurricane Irma in early September, and again with a repeat direct hit of Hurricane Maria just weeks later. Mullica Hill resident Ida Yurgin remembers the last text message she received from her cousin, a resident of the U.S. territory moments before they lost power.

“I spoke to her the night before and she said, ‘I’m really afraid of this one,’ and I think at that point, they knew they were going to be hit head on,” Yurgin said. “The last text I got from her was at 2 a.m. on Wednesday and she said, ‘we lost all power. This is really strong, it sounds like a monster trying to come in the house.’”

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Yurgin said for a week she watched photographs of the devastation where her family lived appear on television, and with constant calls and texts to try to make contact, she didn’t hear from her family members again until the following Saturday.

“When I saw pictures, I cried the entire week,” Yurgin said. “I couldn’t believe it. It literally looks like a bomb hit; not an inch of that island was untouched.”

Immediately, Yurgin said, she wanted to do something to help not only her family, but as many families as she could who had lost everything. Partnering with her brother and cousin, the Operation Bendiciones to Puerto Rico Families was created.

“They are going to be out of power for eight to 10 months, maybe up to a year,” Yurgin said. “I thought, why don’t we use our resources and put them to good use.”

Yurgin’s husband Phil owns a trucking company and donated a 24-foot trailer truck to fill with donated goods and supplies, which will be shipped by boat to Puerto Rico, where Yurgin and her family will fly to hand deliver the goods to the families in need.

The project will focus on families of Vega Baja, in the mountains of north central Puerto Rico where Yurgin’s mother was from.

“We decided to go to a town called Vega Baja because it’s one of the areas in the mountains that was devastated,” Yurgin said. “The center of the island will probably get electricity before the mountain regions do just because they are so hard to get to.”

Yurgin partnered with the Rotary Club of Mullica Hill and the Vineland Rotary to assist in collecting donations.

Rotary of Mullica Hill member Bud Verfaille has had experience in hurricane relief projects, as he recently returned from a trip to Immokalee, Fla., an impoverished area comprised of farmers and farmlands devastated by the impact of Hurricane Irma in early September.

According to Verfaille, the Sept. 18 trip took approximately 29 hours with a 26-foot box truck packed with 10,000-pounds of food and supplies, chainsaws, power tools, wood, tarp and home repair necessities. Verfaille said the project raised $20,000 in 10 days for their efforts. In collaboration with the local Immokalee Rotary Club, the teams were able to assist in repairing damaged roofs and providing energy and supplies for the families in need.

“It was horrendous,” Verfaille said. “You’re dealing with people who don’t have much to begin with, and many homes had damaged roofs, some were completely destroyed.”

Verfaille said he remembers a family living under their partially destroyed trailer with just a tarp over the top of it, while more than 300 people were residing in the high school when they arrived.

“The people down there, the hurricane wiped out all of the crops and that was their work,” Verfaille said. “These are hard working people trying to provide for their families. Our efforts were physically grueling, but ultimately gratifying.”

According to Yurgin, the goal is to have collected all donations, physical and monetary, by Oct. 22 to enable loading the truck by Oct. 24. On Oct. 26, the truck will ship to Puerto Rico by boat, where she and her family will meet it on Nov. 3 to begin delivering the goods.

Monetary donations are preferred to allow for the purchase of items, however donated supplies will also be accepted, such as gas generators, chainsaws, small propane stoves, water, lanterns, solar lighting, batteries, ropes and more.

To learn more about Operation Bendiciones to Puerto Rico Families and how to donate, visit www.operationprfamilies.com.

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