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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

"I didn't know it was him. I was at work, so I didn't pick up until it was like the third call. Now, I know it's him and I pick up."

Figueroa said it's been emotional being so far away from the people she loves, knowing they are suffering.

"The last time I was there was in August," Figueroa said. "Now, Puerto Rico is so different. It's really sad. For me and for other Puerto Ricans, this is something that we are constantly thinking about. We're driving and we think about it. We listen to a song and we start crying because there's nothing we can do."

So rather than spend her days worrying, feeling powerless, Figueroa has found strength by organizing donations for her loved ones and the other people stranded on her island home.

She started an Ann Arbor-based chapter of Puerto Rico Rises, and is collecting donations of things like batteries, solar cell phone chargers and lights, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, bottled water, baby formula and canned goods.

"We've started a huge movement here in Michigan," she said. "We partnered with the Puerto Rican Family Institute in New York. We are using Ann Arbor as our headquarters and have satellite drop off centers in Livonia, Sterling Heights, Canton, Ypsilanti and in churches and schools."

Corporate automotive partners, she said, have agreed to truck the supplies to the Puerto Rican Family Institute in New York City, where they'll be loaded onto ships to help the people.

"We're doing our best here and helping," she said.

Her father, Dr. Ivan Figueroa, a general practitioner, has been helping the sick and injured in his neighborhood, and hopes to volunteer soon at a hospital within walking distance of his home, Rose Figueroa said. When he can get a text message out to her, he sometimes will send funny pictures.

"He is the one stuck there, and he is trying to lift our hearts here and encouraging us to keep doing what we're doing," she said.

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