Donors stuff warehouse with aid for Puerto Rico. Now planes are needed.

Donated supplies are stacked in a warehouse at Evangel Worship Center in Concord. The relief effort NC for PR is looking for aircraft owners willing to volunteer delivery of the supplies.
Donated supplies are stacked in a warehouse at Evangel Worship Center in Concord. The relief effort NC for PR is looking for aircraft owners willing to volunteer delivery of the supplies.

Donors have filled a Concord warehouse with supplies for Puerto Rico, according to a Charlotte-area relief effort that sprang up in response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation. Now the group needs help in delivering the goods.

Aircraft owners have already donated four flights to deliver 40,000 pounds of bottled water, generators, food and other supplies, said Axamarie Gomez, a Puerto Rico native who owns a Charlotte consignment shop. Among them was Joe Gibbs Racing in Huntersville, which flew 14,000 pounds of water, diapers and canned goods on Oct. 9.

Now the effort is looking for more volunteer flights.

“Those are my brothers and sisters needing help,” Gomez said. “Our biggest issue is how do we get it down to Puerto Rico.”

NC for PR, as the relief effort calls itself, is looking for more aircraft owners to volunteer to deliver supplies. Maria struck the island of 3.4 million people as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20.

By last Saturday, officials counted 48 people dead, 85 percent of the island was still without power and 36 percent of residents didn’t have access to safe drinking water.

The relief effort is part of similar response elsewhere. The CEO of online marketing firm Red Ventures, Ric Elias, has launched a campaign to raise at least $10 million to rebuild his native home, including up to $5 million from himself. The campaign, Rebuild Puerto Rico, has raised more than $2 million.

The Puerto Rican Cultural Society of Charlotte has also been shipping supplies to the territory, including 87,000 pounds in recent days. The nonprofit group is accepting donations of money on its website and canned goods at a warehouse at 550 Griffith Road.

NC for PR seeks private aircraft, as opposed to shipping in containers, to ensure that donated goods get in the right hands. With such a scarcity of basic supplies, Gomez said, it would be easy for shipments to be stolen and sold.

In Puerto Rico, she said, a network of pastors delivers supplies to the people who most need them. NC for PR is affiliated with Casa De Avivamiento, a church in Matthews. The donated goods are being stored at a warehouse owned by a second church, Evangel Worship Center in Concord.

“There’s a lot of trying to help, but they’re not always getting in the right hands,” said the Rev. Andres Hernandez, pastor of Casa De Avivamiento. “It’s turned into whoever has the goods are taking and reselling them.”

Trying to help Puerto Ricans can also be tricky on the U.S. mainland, with scammers eager to profit from philanthropy.

“What really muddies the water for potential donors is crowdfunding,” said Tom Bartholomy, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western N.C.

After Hurricane Harvey struck Texas in August, he said, dozens of GoFundMe pages circulated online, some legitimate and some not. After Maria, the BBB has seen phishing attempts from what purported to be the American Red Cross.

“If you know who you’re giving to, you can have that confidence,” Bartholomy said. “If you don’t, give to organizations with boots on the ground.” The BBB compiled a list of verified relief organizations working to help Maria victims that meet its standards for accountability.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender

Want to help?

Pilots willing to fly supplies to Puerto Rico for NC for PR should contact Axamarie Gomez at 704-572-0081.