Nylmarie Santiago is a member of San Pedro Lutheran in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, an ELCA congregation that was severely impacted by Hurricane Maria. 

When the storm hit in September 2017, San Pedro’s building was flooded with several feet of water, making it unusable and ruining almost everything inside. In Toa Baja, a month after the storm, most families still didn’t have running water, couldn’t clean the mud from their homes and were without electricity. At presstime, nearly half of Puerto Ricans were still without power.  

The storm impacted Santiago too. Her grandparents’ house was lost in the hurricane. Since then, they’ve been staying in her parents’ home, where she also lives. And Santiago hasn’t been able to return to her job at a cosmetic store. “I’m in standby at work because we don’t have electricity,” she said. 

But Santiago has put her time to good use. “I’m using my free time to … help everybody,” she said.  

Santiago has rallied San Pedro members to find, coordinate and distribute bottled water and food to 500 families in her neighborhood. Using a municipal building, she organizes volunteers to sort and package the deliveries. When they don’t have enough food and water, she keeps track of which families have received items on that day in order to rotate on the next delivery.  

“Our church has a little group of young people” who coordinate deliveries, she said. After others from the congregation finish packing the boxes, “we call the youth and they do the delivery. We have a pickup [truck] from my dad, and we help give everything to the families,” Santiago added.  

When an ELCA delegation visited Puerto Rico in October, Santiago was preparing deliveries and watching the weather carefully. “We have to wait because of the flash flood warnings,” she said. “It can be another mess again.” 

Despite being impacted by the hurricane herself, Santiago is tirelessly serving her community, a testament to resilience. “We are trying to be very positive and give hope to the people,” she said.  

To help 

Give by credit card or by calling 800-638-3522. Send checks payable to Lutheran Disaster Response (mark “hurricane response” in memo line) to Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, P.O. Box 1809, Merrifield, VA 22116-8009. 

Alex Baird
Alex Baird is ELCA senior manager for communications and marketing.

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