Manchester woman collects clothing for hurricane victims who fled to NHBy DOUG ALDEN
New Hampshire Union Leader
November 13. 2017 10:44PM
MANCHESTER — A city woman is leading a clothing drive for hurricane victims that fled Puerto Rico and arrived safely in Manchester just in time for winter.
Shalimar Encarnacion said she saw a need while translating for families seeking assistance after fleeing their homes on the island ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes in September.
“These are the evacuees that have come here with nothing,” Encarnacion said Monday amid stacks of clothing. “Aside from not having a lot, they also are not prepared for the cold.”
The donated goods are stored in an old classroom in the old St. Joseph Middle School building at Bridge and Pine streets. Developer Tom DeBlois, who owns the building, agreed to let Encarnacion use the space rent-free through the end of the year.
Coats, blankets, heavy socks, scarves and hats of all sizes fill the room, some in boxes and others stacked on plastic garbage bags laid on the floor. Encarnacion is also seeking some shelving to help organize the donations.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect this much,” she said. “I really didn’t know how this was going to go.”
Encarnacion started the clothing drive at the beginning of the month with a word-of-mouth campaign she supplemented with a flyer she posted on her Facebook page last week. Some area churches helped her get going; friends and colleagues have pitched in.
Just a few hours before snow started falling Monday, Encarnacion helped Rossy Vasquez find sweaters, coats and other layers for Vasquez and her two daughters, who fled just after Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean in early September.
“It already had affected us. We didn’t have electricity. We were going hungry. I had to just grab any flights I could and leave,” Vasquez said as Encarnacion translated. “If we were going hungry with Irma, just imagine what was coming after.”
Vasquez and her daughters, 19 and 14, were off the island when Hurricane Maria arrived and caused the widespread destruction, toppling buildings and wiping out the power grid. Vasquez said her mother was still at their home in Cantano, just west of San Juan.
“I haven’t been able to talk to her,” Vasquez said.
Vasquez arrived Monday with Chris Flores, a neighbor in Puerto Rico who has family in Manchester; she and her daughters are staying there temporarily. Flores was braving the cold Monday in a T-shirt and stocking cap before finding a new coat among the donated goods.
Encarnacion said it was Vasquez who inspired her to start the clothing drive.
Encarnacion, who works part-time as an interpreter for the Department of Health and Human Services, said she was helping Vasquez apply for assistance when she noted the sweater she was wearing. Vasquez told her the sweater was borrowed and she had to get it back to the owner.
“That’s when I kind of thought ‘Wow — this is a really big need,’” Encarnacion said.
Encarnacion enlisted her husband, Miguel, as her first volunteer, along with the couple’s two children, Angelica, 19, and Angel, 15.
Miguel said he could somewhat relate to the refugees’ introduction to cold weather, having come from the Dominican Republic 20 years ago to study engineering at Boston University.
“When you come from the islands, you’re never prepared for this cold,” Miguel said.
So far, two families have been outfitted; about eight more are signed up by appointment, which is how Encarnacion is distributing the clothing through an e-mail she set up specifically for hurricane refugees: NHcares4PRfamilies@gmail.com.
Encarnacion said she she’s planning to keep taking appointments — and donations — through mid-December, then hopes to wrap up the drive on Dec. 20.
“I just want to be able to help everybody and their family. I’m hoping that happens,” she said.
Anyone interesting in making or receiving donations or helping distribute clothing may contact Encarnacion at: NHcares4PRfamilies@gmail.com