LI Community Mobilizes to Help Victims of Guatemala Volcano

“United for Guatemala”: La Fiesta 98.5FM on Long Island is organizing relief efforts on June 10 including a “radiothon”

Guatemala is in mourning and needs help.

The Fuego volcano in Guatemala, located just 30 miles from the capital, erupted on Sunday, leaving more than 1.7 million people affected, more than 100 dead – including children – and at least 200 missing, according to the authorities.

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On Long Island’s East End, home to a large Guatemalan population, the news of the eruption caused great commotion. Many people have made desperate calls to their family members to make sure they are safe while some have been unable to locate relatives and friends, and others grieve the tragedy.

“Your heart just breaks, whether you are Guatemalan or not, watching those horrible images. Your heart breaks seeing what the people are going through,” said Rafael Reyes, a resident of Patchogue.

Since Monday, dozens of people of all nationalities have mobilized across the county to help the victims and send the aid Guatemala so sorely needs.

“They are ready to support Guatemalans who have sadly lost everything or part of their family. Guatemala is going through such a difficult moment that we can only thank the Guatemalan people for showing a fighting spirit, dedication, dynamism, and this is certainly the time for that,” said the Consul General of Guatemala in New York Pedro Tzunún.

Social media has been crucial to these efforts and a number of donation centers where goods may be dropped off have been set up in Suffolk County. A number of monetary donation campaigns to help victims have also emerged and a “radiothon” will be held on Sunday by La Fiesta 98.5FM.

When they learned about the disaster, members of the Riverhead Soccer League – where most teams have players from different parts of Guatemala – asked League President Edgardo Villafranco to help them coordinate an effort to help victims. Villafranco has experience leading aid campaigns.

“Many of the teams approached me and, through soccer and with the community here, we have decided to raise money to help those affected,” said Villafranco, who was born in El Salvador and is planning to travel to Guatemala on Thursday.

There, he will meet with Luis Fernando Cruz, who lived in Riverhead for many years and has stayed in touch with the league. The two plan to buy the goods most needed in Guatemala and deliver them directly to shelters.

First, said Villafranco, the funds need to be collected.

To that end, he has planned a BBQ at his Flanders home to which everyone is invited. The food, donated by Quick Stop Deli, will be sold by the plate.

On Sunday, donations in the form of goods and cash will be collected at the Stotzky Memorial Park soccer field. There will be a raffle with tickets going for $20 for a new iPhone 8, and another one for a pair of new soccer cleats, with tickets sold for $10.

“I hope many people come. The more money we can collect, the better,” said Villafranco. “I am going to document every step on Facebook Live so everyone can see where their money is going and how we plan to help people in Guatemala.”

Reyes and his wife Angélica, from Guatemala and living in Patchogue, are also collaborating with Eric Arias, owner of Transportes Arias; William Pinto, founder of Willie’s Appliances; and radio station La Fiesta 98.5 FM to hold a “radiothon” on Sunday.

All donations collected in the different centers – from Southampton, Hampton Bays and Riverhead to Ronkonkoma and Brentwood – will be transported by truck to a container leaving for Guatemala between June 19 and 24, according to Reyes.

When it gets there, nonprofit Fundación Sergio Páiz Andrade (FUNSEPA) will assist with the distribution and logistics, he added.

“Being so far away, one wants to run and help as soon as possible or do something, but all we can do is get organized and find some way to help those victims who have been so affected and have lost practically everything,” he said.

Reyes added that, if necessary, he and his wife will be there in person when the container arrives to help with the coordination and paperwork.

“Our priority is to deliver everything to shelters directly, not to the government, because you see so much stuff going on there that we would rather make sure the donations will arrive where they need to go,” said Reyes.

For a complete list of what, where and how to donate, click here.

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