September 27. 2017 8:22PM

Governor announces NH relief drive for Puerto Rico

By KEVIN LANDRIGAN
New Hampshire Union Leader


Supplies donated for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico are shown on Tuesday in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu said a 22-hour donation effort next week to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico will be “one of the largest state collection drives” in history.

Flanked by all his department heads and a Manchester woman who spearheaded her own local relief campaign, Sununu announced the state will be accepting donations outside the state capital building from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. next Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We have an obligation to help these individuals and in true, New Hampshire Live Free or Die spirit, we’re stepping up to do all that we can,” the first-term Republican governor said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

“The residents of Puerto Rico are recovering from extreme hardship.”

Yaritza Rodriguez of Manchester said she’s been deluged with offers of more donations since a front-page story in the New Hampshire Union Leader Wednesday profiled her volunteer effort.

“I am not turning anyone down who wants to help,” said Rodriguez, whose mother lives in Puerto Rico. “I think this suffering has touched a nerve.”

Rodriguez said she’s delighted that Sununu is putting all of state government behind New Hampshire’s own relief effort.

“We are finally as a state going to step up, I’m very pleased to see this happening,” Rodriguez said during an interview.

After seeing the story, Sununu e-mailed Rodriguez Wednesday and invited her to become part of the announcement.

“This is going to be one of the largest state collection drives we have ever had,” said Sununu commending the New Hampshire Food Bank with agreeing to serve as a partner in the effort.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Perry Plummer said Puerto Rico is requesting specific donated items such as bottled water, protein or fruit bars, hand sanitizer, canned and dry foods for humans and pets, first aid kits, baby wipes and non-perishable food for infants.

“Unfortunately if the items are not specific to what they are looking for, it just clogs up the delivery system,” Plummer said.

Sununu said efforts the state has already made include deploying 50 state and local staff to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and be stationed in either Florida, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands along with eight National Guard members sent to the Virgin Islands, with a Guard communications specialist headed to Puerto Rico in the coming days.

“They are all answering the call, it is something we cannot commend enough,” Sununu said. “We couldn’t be prouder of them.”

Employment Security Commissioner George Copadis said all state agency heads committed to Sununu they would promote and support the donation drive in any way that would help.

“These are real desperate times for folks down there with how Hurricane Maria just pulverized the island,” Copadis said. “We all want to do something, anything that they need.”

Sununu said he and Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello have already developed a strong relationship from meetings of the nation’s governors.

“We both came into office about the same time, he like me is an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) grad,” Sununu added.

“He is doing a terrific job down there. The message from New Hampshire to Puerto Rico is we are going to do our part.”

klandrigan@unionleader.com