WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Christina Villanueva, the co-owner of an indoor cycling studio in Washington Heights, was one of many New Yorkers who couldn't reach her family in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria left residents with no electricity or cell service. She had last spoken to her stepfather, Juan Meracdo, just before the Category 5 hurricane slammed into the island.
"After the hurricane hit and we realized just how bad it was and how direct the impact was, we were not able to reach him," Villanueva said. "We tried multiple times a day, sometimes it was just a busy signal, or that the call didn't go through, or it went to voicemail."
Last week Mercado walked a mile to find a sliver of cell service so he could reach the daughter that he raised since age 3, to let her know he was doing okay. But he's been silent since, as Villanueva assumes her stepfather has turned off his phone to conserve battery life.
Villanueva said that her stepfather's situation was more fortunate than others due to his concrete home, but that everyone there was suffering from from scarce resources and a lack of running water and electricity.
Instead of following the disappointing pace of the relief efforts, Villanueva decided to get to work. While she had just launched her indoor cycling company Push Pedal with her co-owner Annie Flores three months ago, the duo are determined to contribute through cycling classes at their 4080 Broadway location on the corner of West 172nd Street.
Push Pedal is holding two classes at $25 a seat on Friday, at 7 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., and will be a collection site for things like water, batteries, and non-perishable foods with all proceeds going towards The Puerto Rican Family Institute, a nonprofit collecting funds and items for Hurricane Maria.
"Our mission is to just do good for the community in any way we can, even our extended community," Flores said.
Push Pedal has raised close to $700 for Puerto Rico so far, but they're not the only business rallying for the cause. Neighboring watering holes The Harlem Public and At the Wallace at Broadway and West 149th Street teamed up to collect donations on Saturday as part of Engine 91 Firehouse at 242 East 111st Street and their fundraising efforts.
And Bread and Yoga, at 5000 Broadway on West 212th Street, a few streets down from Push Pedal, is also contributing through their classes. According to studio manager Meghan Lastra, they raised $2,100 on Saturday through their $22 classes and suggested donations, which will be routed to Unidos por Puerto Rico, an initiative co-created by the country's First Lady Beatriz Rosselló.
"Like everybody else, we were just seeing the destruction, the lack of supplies being able to get there, and the challenge for them to recover," Lastra said. "Seeing people in pain, we're always going to respond. In yoga, our community extends beyond just those we see every day."
Last week, Councilmember Mark Levine teamed up with Assemblymember Marcos Crespo and the UJA-Federation of New York to ship 200 mobile power generators to community-based service organizations in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal kicked off her donation drive on Monday where residents can drop off water, portable lanterns, flashlights, batteries, diapers, baby wipes, and menstrual hygiene products at her district office at 230 West 72nd Street.
With the influx of donations, Villanueva is just hoping that the resources will reach Puerto Ricans before their situation gets worse.
"As the time goes on, the crisis just proves to be worse and worse," Villanueva said. "We all have to put in our part in helping and the way to do it is to stand together and do it."