Springfield opens welcome center to serve Puerto Ricans who may arrive after Hurricane Fiona

A woman holds a Puerto Rican flag during the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade on Sept. 18, 2022. (Elizabeth Román/New England Public Media)
A woman holds a Puerto Rican flag during the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade on Sept. 18, 2022. (Elizabeth Román/New England Public Media)

Officials in Springfield are working with a community organization to establish a welcome center for families who may arrive from Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Fiona.

City officials met with Rosa Espinosa, program director for New North Citizen Council at Springfield City Hall Tuesday to present an action plan in case Puerto Ricans start arriving to the city in the coming weeks.

Espinosa said the council will host the welcome center for any families in need, just like it did during Hurricane Maria in 2017. At the time, the organization assisted about 600 families.

"We want to make sure we can meet their needs once they are here," she said. "If they choose to stay, we can help them move forward. If they choose to go back to Puerto Rico, at least while they were here, they were able to resolve some of their problems or issues."

Espinosa said families can call ahead or just show up.

"In an emergency like this one, I welcome a phone call, but I also welcome someone knocking on the door and saying, 'Here I am, what do I do now?' " she said.

City Clerk Gladys Oyola said families may arrive in need of health care services, a place to live and a school for their children to attend.

"Massachusetts had over 7,000 people from Puerto Rico arrive after Hurricane Maria and many of them chose to come here first," she said. "We served as a place where they could establish residency in order to get other services such as health care and having their children go to school here in Springfield."

Oyola said many will need help recovering legal documents lost in the flooding.

"The vital records piece will be a big issue for people who have lost all of their paperwork, their birth certificates, their Social Security cards," she said.

Mayor Domenic Sarno said the city learned a lot from the families that arrived after Hurricane Maria and they will use those lessons to assist incoming families.

"We don't know where we stand and whether we will receive the influx we did during Hurricane Maria, but we will be ready if and when they arrive," he said.

Ward 1 City Councilor Maria Perez, who also works at the New North Citizens Council, said many people will want to donate food and clothing and water, but those are not the current needs.

"We need to assess what is necessary on the island before those decisions are made and we need to assess how many people will arrive here and what their immediate needs will be," she said.

At this time, the organization is only collecting monetary donations.

This story is a production of New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by New England Public Media.



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