Feb 02, 2018
A Humboldt State community of students, staff, and local businesses helped distant communities rebuild structures and their lives following natural disasters.
Left to right: Elizabeth Philips, Melissa Vazquez, Brenda Perez, and Ruby Joy Garcia (not pictured) started Humboldt Hearts.Students Melissa Vazquez and Elizabeth Philips, visiting faculty member Brenda Perez, and alumna Ruby Joy Garcia (’17, Social Work) are behind Humboldt Hearts. Formed in September, the grassroots organization of students, HSU staff, and local businesses – plus a group in Japan – raised about $1,300 for survivors of the recent Mexico earthquake and Puerto Rico hurricane.
About $600 helped residents rebuild homes and schools in the Mexican states of Puebla and Oaxaca; the rest of the funds will be sent to Tainas Unidas, another grassroots group supporting those affected in Puerto Rico.
“I know now that I can ask for help in Humboldt County and that people are going to answer,” says Perez, who is a Ph.D. student from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Humboldt Hearts’ journey began right after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake in Mexico on Sept. 19. The temblor hit Mexico City and other parts of the country—including Puebla and Oaxaca, an impoverished state already reeling from an 8.1-magnitude quake that hit just 12 days earlier.
“I saw images of people trying to rescue survivors and felt helpless,” says Perez, whose family lives in Puebla. “My first thought was that we have to organize and send money right now.”
Understanding the challenges of providing aid to remote areas of Mexico, Perez and Vazquez (Spanish, International Studies) reached out to personal contacts in Puebla and Oaxaca who could distribute funds directly and quickly.
In the meantime, Garcia, who was concerned about family members in Puerto Rico, had been collecting money for hurricane relief efforts. She believed a group like Humboldt Hearts would give her a larger platform to raise awareness of Puerto Rico politics and policies.
“Puerto Rico is still suffering and it’s up to everyday people and organizations like Humboldt Hearts to step up,” says Garcia, an Americorps STEM Vista volunteer for HSU’s Center for Community Based Learning and the Academic Career & Advising Center.
And step up they did. Working with LatinX Center for Academic Excellence coordinator Fernando Paz, Perez, Vazquez, Garcia, and Philips (Communication) started planning a festival fundraiser.
The group asked businesses across Arcata to sponsor the festival. In the end, they received food from Mexican restaurant Rita’s; a giant piñata from Fregoso’s Market; $100 from the owner of Roman’s Kitchen; pizzas from West Side Pizza; coffee and milk from Starbucks; gift bags of bottled wine and glasses from Elk Prairie Vineyard; and live music, courtesy of local band La Mancha.
HSU club Ballet Folklorico de Humboldt performed at the festival, a student artist provided face-painting services, and others helped set up food. “I remember one student saying he didn’t have anything but ended up giving us a heart-shaped piñata,” says Perez.
Even a group in Tokyo run by a friend of Perez began raising money for Puebla.
“The way the community came together was really nice. I didn’t expect all this help,” says Vazquez of the October event held in Eureka.
Everyone’s hard work is paying off. Photos recently sent to Perez show volunteers and residents in Puebla reconstructing buildings with materials bought with Humboldt Hearts funds.
The group isn’t done yet. To make sure people in Mexico and Puerto Rico aren’t forgotten, another fundraiser might be in the works.
“The media covers these disasters at first and then after two weeks, it stops. Residents still don’t have homes and we want to make sure they get help,” says Vazquez.