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Floridians help get supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico 'the Miami way'

Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

At one point, five Miami warehouses were stacked full of donated emergency supplies that the state of Florida couldn't deliver because the Puerto Rican government hadn't asked for it or designated a point to deliver it.

Melendez said he didn't realize the full extent of the confusion and dysfunction in the governmental relief effort until he got a call a few days ago from a friend who works with Puerto Rico's lobbyists in Washington.

"He said, 'Hey, I have four U-Haul trailers full of stuff, but I can't get it there. If I give it to you, can you get it delivered?'" said Melendez. "If a guy operating at that level can't do it, how do you think it's working for everybody else?"

That's why the private relief networks -- even large ones, like Hoffman's -- have resisted creating any formal infrastructure. They fear it will breed bureaucracy and inertia.

"This is an 'infrastructure' of everybody doing it for free, on the fly," Hoffman said. "We're kind of making it up as we go along."

She prefers it that way, even though she's been working on storm recovery efforts pretty much nonstop since Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of Texas in August. Hoffman first caught the hurricane-relief bug in 2005 when she joined a collection of chefs setting up food kitchens in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"We have not slept in days," she said of her coterie of organizers. "This is all day, all night. But this is the way we always do it -- no paid staff, no employees. That way, everything donated to us goes directly to the storm victims."

Melendez, however, is starting to think that creating a permanent organization and bringing on some paid help might not be so bad. "My consulting clients aren't happy with me," he admitted. "And I haven't done laundry in three weeks."

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(Mary Ellen Klas and Howard Cohen contributed to this report.)

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