Grass-roots hurricane relief ‘snowballed’

Robert Layman / Staff Photo
Mark Jacob empties his RC-45J plane at the Rutland Southern Vermont Regional Airport Thursday afternoon after returning from a supply run to gather donated materials destined for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. Jacob and his wife Jennifer initially started a local donation drive, but it picked up traction from other pilots who organized similar collections. Cape Air provided a cargo plane to get the donations to Boston, where from their they’ll fly to P.R.

By Patrick McArdle

After about a week, a grass-roots effort to gather supplies for hurricane relief to Puerto Rico collected several thousand pounds of donations including canned food, bottled water, diapers, pet food, hygiene items and sleeping bags.

By Friday, some of the donations had already been taken to Puerto Rico, but the planes delivering the supplies from Cape Air and JetBlue will no longer be able to deliver the items, so the collection has come to an end for now.

While unloading the latest donations from a van on last week at the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, Jennifer Jacob explained how she and her husband, Dr. Mark Jacob, a pulmonologist at Rutland Regional Medical Center, started the effort.

“In the last week, a group of us here in Rutland were a little frustrated with the response in Puerto Rico and the fact that (people in Puerto Rico) really had nothing,” Jacob said.

Jacob said it wasn’t a particular group, like a Rotary Club, but just a group of Vermonters who knew each other.

However, the Jacobs, both noncommercial pilots, knew they needed to find an airline to deliver the materials.

“The first thing we needed to do was nail down the logistics, because we knew we didn’t want to collect a bunch of stuff, then try to get it there. That would not be a reasonable idea,” she said.

After contacting several airlines, she found that Cape Air, which flies out of the Rutland airport, was willing to help. Jacob said her contact told her, “This is amazing. We would love to help you.”

Trish Lorino, vice president for marketing and public relations for Cape Air, said by email last Wednesday that the airline was helping to bring the items from Vermont to Boston, where they could then be taken to San Juan by JetBlue.

Using a Facebook page, Central and Southern Vermont Hurricane Relief, the group put out the word they would be collecting supplies.

“It kind of snowballed from there,” she said. “We’ve had people dropping from Proctor, from Fair Haven. What ended up happening is from our page, Castleton Indivisible cross-posted it, the NAACP chapter cross-posted it. People were able to connect in different ways to that Facebook page. It has kind of taken on a life of its own, which is amazing.”

One Cape Air cargo flight picked up more than 1,100 pounds of donations collected at airports in New Hampshire.

About 2,300 pounds of supplies had been taken to Boston during the week, with about 1,000 pounds waiting to be shipped and several large stacks of unpackaged items.

Several area locations, including Grace Congregational Church, the Cape Air office downtown and Durgin’s Cleaners in Rutland and a Brandon salon, A Little Cut Hair and There, served as drop-off locations.

Jacob said another major contributor was Karen Steever, a teacher at the Flood Brook School in Londonderry, who organized a drive at the school.

Jacob said she has not organized a similar effort in the past. She does not have a personal connection to the U.S. territory, but was touched by the disaster.

“We knew that in the Caribbean, they had been absolutely devastated. In Florida and in Texas, you can drive trucks there. You can’t do that in Puerto Rico. You can’t do that in the Virgin Islands,” she said.

The response taught Jacob something about Vermonters.

“Vermonters care about other people, and it doesn’t matter whether they are thousands of miles away. We still care about the people that need help,” she said.