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Detroit's formerly homeless to make solar panels for Puerto Rico

Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Weather News

DETROIT -- Formerly homeless men and women from Detroit will work to literally empower the people of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, building portable solar panels that are to be delivered to the island.

The Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, told the Free Press that supplies to build 15 portable solar panels had been ordered and were on their way to the nonprofit's Green Industries, where they'll be assembled for hurricane relief.

She is among the Michiganders hoping to bring some aid to the devastation on the island caused by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck Sept. 20, felling electrical towers, poles and power lines in its path. It left most of the island's 3.4 million residents with limited or in many cases no access to food, clean drinking water, electricity, gasoline and cellphone service.

The 100-watt, 12-volt polycrystalline portable solar panels can be used to charge cellphones, computers, or run fans or lights or even small refrigerators.

"Basically, they collect the rays from the sun, which is good for Puerto Rico because they have a lot of sun. They convert the sun's rays into energy that gets stored on a battery that items can draw from; things can be plugged in," she said.

Access to refrigeration, Fowler said, is vital for people whose medication must be kept cold.

"Especially when you think about insulin," she said. "Those folks are really in trouble. We thought that would be magnificent because a lot of people can't access gasoline or generators. And when you're talking about six months without electricity, it just frightens me."

Parts for the first batch of solar panels, which include battery boxes, 12V plugs, inverters, wires and fuses, were expected to arrive in Detroit by Tuesday. It costs about $500 to build a single unit. Fowler said the nonprofit group will work through the week to build them, and then soon after will travel to Puerto Rico to ensure they make it into the hands of people who most need them.

They'll be delivered to people like Carlos Melendez's 87-year-old father, along with his sisters and their children.

Melendez, who lives in Ann Arbor, volunteers at Cass Community Social Services with his wife, Bonnie. He will travel to Puerto Rico with Fowler to deliver the first batch of solar panels.

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