HUMBOLDT PARK — In Humboldt Park, Chicago's Puerto Rican enclave, many are reeling after a pair of recent hurricanes have left thousands of people on the island without homes, water, food and belongings.
Ramon Moreno, 63, has lived in the neighborhood for decades, but many of his family members, including his brother and sister, still live in Puerto Rico. Since the island lost power, Moreno hasn't been able to reach any of them to make sure they're OK.
"I have family ... I get choked up," Moreno said, fighting back tears.
Moreno is among 100 volunteers involved in an ongoing hurricane relief effort at Casa Puertorriqueña, an organization that operates out of a building across from the neighborhood's namesake park at 1237 N. California Ave.
Since Hurricane Irma, the first of two disasters, touched down on the island two weeks ago, the volunteers have been stationed at Casa Puertorriqueña six days a week from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays, collecting donations, sorting through them and providing moral support for one another.
"We're not there, we can't do anything about it," Moreno said as fellow volunteers whizzed by carrying boxes overflowing with household items to trucks parked on the street.
"This is what we can do. As long as people know we're collecting, people will be coming," he added.
All of the household items — everything from flashlights and batteries to canned goods and baby formula — are being sent to Puerto Rico via cargo planes.
The Humboldt Park organization, which puts on the neighborhood's annual Puerto Rican parade, is also sending donations to Mexico, which was ravaged in a powerful earthquake last week.
So far, at least 500 people have donated household items to the cause, and that number is only expected to grow in the coming days, according to former Ald. Vilma Colom (35th), who is helping organize the effort and is also originally from Puerto Rico.
Colom said the organization has no plans to stop collecting donations anytime soon.
"People have gone above and beyond in giving of themselves to make this beneficial," Colom said, adding that supplies will be sent to the small towns that were hit the hardest.
Other local organizations such as the Puerto Rican Agenda and Puerto Rican Cultural Center are also accepting donations and raising money to help victims.
In response to the disasters, city officials launched a website that provides a list of verified charities and organizations for those looking to donate.