For the last three years, the UNT Hispanic Student Association has collected cash donations to help people in Venezuela. This year it decided to collect items that could help people in both Venezuela and Puerto Rico, countries that have recently experienced economic issues and natural disasters.
HSA hopes to bring awareness to the issues Venezuela and Puerto Rico face by encouraging members to donate perishable food, clothing and other items like toiletries. They plan to split those donations in half to help Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
“[The fundraiser] has grown a lot in the past four years,” HSA president Jackie Velasquez said. “We did start off with cash donations but now we’re really trying to get the members to feel something and have a connection with something they’re donating.”
In addition to the drive, HSA members held a meeting explaining the problems in both countries and how they got there. Velasquez presented about Venezuela and Vice President Kevin Herrera, a political science and criminal justice senior, presented about Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is still recovering from natural disasters and facing a lack of government help, Herrera said in his presentation. Venezuela has multiple problems including rising inflation and political turmoil, Velasquez said in her presentation. Velasquez showed prices in the U.S. and prices in Venezuela on things like milk — which costs $7 in the U.S. and $700 USD in Venezuela.
The fundraiser received the most donations in its history due to the growth of HSA, Velasquez said.
HSA gives its Venezuela donations to a group called Proyecto Ayudamiento, which takes donations in-person to Venezuela. HSA ships donations to the group’s nearest location in Miami, and PA sends people to distribute the funds. HSA is still trying to find an organization that will take donations to the people in Puerto Rico that they trust, Herrera said.
“We want to make sure whoever we donate it to is actually gonna be able to give it out,” Herrera said.
HSA fundraising coordinator Matt Lopez, who has family from Puerto Rico, is also helping with looking for an organization to donate to the territory.
“It’s really important to talk about what’s happening socially over there as well as the economy, the government,” Lopez said. “Because Puerto Rico [is] going through such a natural disaster and the repercussions of a natural disaster and they’re going through a revolution now. Their government isn’t in power and also they’re basically rebuilding and it’s like Venezuela from the ground up.”
Lopez said he knows not everyone can come to the U.S from Puerto Rico and that he is glad HSA decided to collect donations.
“I have family members who can’t come to the U.S. because they’re fully Puerto Rican and they have to stay over there because of family and their lives [are] over there.” Lopez said.
English freshman Veronica Puche grew up in Venezuela and came to the U.S. when she was 5 and cannot go back to Venezuela because of passport difficulties. She has been to one HSA meeting so far, where she shared information about her background with the country.
Her dad’s side of the family moved to Miami where they lived in a small apartment and their kids slept on air mattresses. People have a hard time leaving Venezuela and other South American countries have stopped taking refugees, Puche said.
“There’s a reason why [my family] came,” Puche said. “There’s no meds, there’s no food. There’s actually a lot of times there’s not even school because of there’s no electricity. How are you going to send a group of kids to school? Study where? Outside?”
Featured Image: Donations of food and clothing given by UNT students sit at the front of the room while the group discusses on Feb. 4, 2020. Image by Theophilus Bowie