After Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, thousands of Boricuas in the United States rushed to give what they could via Unidos Por Puerto Rico (“United for Puerto Rico”), a nonprofit organization created to support relief efforts on the island. A proposal by Puerto Rico first lady Beatriz Rosselló would shift some of those Unidos donations toward non-essential programs — but not if supermodel Joan Smalls and her Twitter followers have anything to say about it.
On Jan. 1, the Puerto Rican Victoria’s Secret model retweeted a story by local newspaper El Vocero revealing a plan brought forth by Rosselló to use the money donated to restore parks and recreation facilities on the island. Smalls, who was born in the northwestern town of Hatillo, wrote: “Insane! Thousands of families still without light, water, homes and necessities and you want to restore parks!!Really?! This isn’t y people donated, myself included. This is deeply concerning.”
Smalls also emphasized the struggles of children in Puerto Rico more than three months after Hurricane Maria. “No one wants to go play in a park when the don’t have a home to go back to,” she wrote. “A warm meal to eat, or water to shower.” Only 55 percent of Puerto Ricans have power as of January 2018 and cellphone reception is still spotty despite Google’s efforts to provide signal with Project Loon.
The first lady has since withdrawn the proposal due to Internet outrage. After she announced the project, social media throngs went after Rosselló, who later said in a statement: “After the confusion generated by these proposals, I’ll be communicating with the Board of Directors of Unidos por Puerto Rico that I’ll withdraw the projects to focus on helping whoever has more urgent needs.”
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Unidos por Puerto Rico has raised $30 million in donations and funded organizations such as the Humanitarian Assistance Cooperative Housing Foundation ($99,844), the National Puerto Rican Leadership Council Education Fund ($233,000) and the World Central Kitchen ($500,000). The nonprofit also hosted a telethon on Dec. 10 with performances by Bryant Myers, Tito “El Bambino” and Jeancarlos Canela.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Smalls has raised awareness online about the dire situation on her home island, urging her social media followers to donate supplies and money to various organizations. “The best thing a Puerto Rican does is go forward,” she wrote on Instagram. “My prayers are still with my people.”