Former WRAL reporter raises $50K for hurricane-ravaged hometown in Puerto Rico

Posted January 10, 2018 10:18 p.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 11:15 a.m. EDT

— It could take several years for Puerto Rico to return to normal after Hurricane Maria but, in one community, people are beginning to receive the supplies they desperately need.

Former WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago, a Puerto Rico native, started a fundraiser for her beloved hometown of Corozal. She recently reached her goal of $50,000 and made her first deliveries to residents.

“Where I come from, it’s countryside, up in the mountains. There aren’t that many resources, so I knew early on I wanted to do something specifically for Corozal,” Santiago said.

What Santiago did early on was tell the stories of loss, despair and need Puerto Ricans were experiencing after Hurricane Maria. More than three months later, there’s still a desperate need for help in Corozal.

“In Corozal, 30 percent have power, so the majority of the people in my hometown do not have power,” she said.

After successfully reaching the goal of her Dear Corozal GoFundMe campaign, Santiago was able to purchase and deliver solar lights to families who are still without power.

“You just put them out in the sun for eight hours and it gives you 12 hours of light,” she said.

The small solar lights, she said, are a ray of hope to the people of Corozal.

“One of these can light a room at night. For a kid trying to do their homework at night, that might be all they need,” Santiago said.

Santiago also delivered mattresses to residents, some of whom were still using mattresses damaged by the storm or had none at all because Hurricane Maria took everything.

“Three months later, people were still sleeping on the floor because there’s nothing in their home,” she said.

For Santiago, her work to rebuild her hometown is far from over. She says the community made her who she is and helping it rebuild is both healing and empowering.

“I am never going to forget this experience as a journalist or as a Puerto Rican,” she said.

Santiago said her next goal is to have generators delivered to Corozal and get a team of doctors to make a trip to the town.