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How Denise Fernandez-Pallozzi Transported 41 Bags of Luggage to Puerto Rico Post-Earthquakes

A series of devastating earthquakes began impacting Puerto Rico in December 2019. These earthquakes continued for over a month. The Institute for Childhood Preparedness works closely with the Region II Head Start Association and we are proud to provide support to early childhood programs in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands.

As we previously reported, the earthquakes caused severe damage in some parts of the southern region of Puerto Rico - leaving many families without homes, or causing them to sleep outside - out of fear that their home would collapse.

Amazingly, in every disaster we find extraordinary people who are willing to go the extra mile and help out those in need. Shortly after the earthquakes began, we were contacted by Denise Fernandez-Pallozzi. Denise Fernandez-Pallozzi is originally from New York City, and both of her parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico. Denise had a strong desire to help provide some comfort and relief to those impacted by the earthquakes.

The Puerto Rican culture is very strong in her family, and her children have grown up visiting Puerto Rico every year. She currently serves as the Director for Career and Technical Education at Questar III BOCES (The Board of Cooperative Education Services) for Rensselaer, Columbia, and Greene Counties in upstate New York. She is bilingual, but not 100%. Denise’s organization supports the Angelo Del Toro Puerto Rican/Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute, as well as the Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network across New York State, and the organization is committed to helping individuals, families, and students succeed. She currently lives in the Capital Region of Upstate New York, where she also serves as a fitness instructor at the YMCA.

Providing Benefits to Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Caribbean in 2017, Denise helped to organize a benefit concert, which raised nearly $10,000. The concert, which included four live acts, was sponsored by Centro Civico as part of the Puerto Rico Disaster Relief effort. Denise was able to raise enough money from the concert to help rebuild schools on Vieques, as well as transport a full National Guard cargo plane to Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria victims.

Denise’s Response Post-Earthquakes

After seeing the devastation caused by the recent earthquakes, Denise knew she had to do something. With the assistance of her fellow employees and members of the YMCA, Denise immediately began organizing donation collections. She was able to fill numerous boxes with goods and supplies, and she even had to empty the boxes multiple times a week because they were overflowing with donations. In a short amount of time, and without support from major corporations, Denise relied on the generosity of small donors to make this effort happen. Denise said, “This effort was driven by a labor of love, and it took a village to make it happen. I was happy to be the conduit, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help families in Puerto Rico.”

Denise’s Efforts:

  • In one month, Denise raised a total of $3,000 in cash.

  • She reached out to friends, family, and colleagues through social media and phone calls.

  • Everyone was happy to give what they could.

  • Denise documented her travels on social media so donors could see where their donations went in Puerto Rico.

  • Donations were of high quality, and supplies included batteries, camping gear, flashlights, pampers, wipes, and medicine. A doctor donated insulin and needles, and a dentist donated toothpaste and dental supplies.

Supplies being sorted in Penuelas Head Start

How Denise Transported 41 Pieces of Luggage to Puerto Rico

All of the donated goods and supplies fit into 41 pieces of luggage, and Denise had to figure out how to transport everything from New York to Puerto Rico. With the help of her life partner, David Santore, volunteers in three pickup trucks drove Denise and David to the airport in the early morning hours of January 29, 2020.

Met with some initial resistance at the airport, Denise and David got creative, taking 20 bags each. Denise said, “There was such a degree of uncertainty. We didn’t know if we would be able to bring all the luggage, or whether it would all make it to Puerto Rico. Upon arrival, we also didn’t know if our cars would be stopped, searched, and confiscated. Luckily, everything went smoothly, and we successfully transported all 41 bags of luggage to Peńuelas.”

Transporting 41 pieces of luggage

Arriving in Peńuelas

Denise was fortunate to have close friends, Carlos Baez and Dr. Robert Hirsh, living in Puerto Rico. Carlos met Denise and David at the airport with a cargo truck, and Dr. Hirsh and Institute Disaster Project Coordinator Luis Beniquez assisted with transporting the luggage to Peńuelas. Upon arrival, the group went straight to the Head Start office, where they were greeted by the Director, Wanda Jaime, and fifteen staff members.

Everyone immediately started unloading the 41 bags of luggage:

  • Tables were already set up and organized into categories.

  • Within two and a half hours, every single piece of luggage had been unloaded.

  • Items were organized into categories: medicine, blankets and sheets, clothing, camping gear, diapers/wipes, feminine products, and personal hygiene products.