The Villanova University alumni network is strong. Just ask alumnus Jorge Gonzalez ’06 VSB. The day after Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, Gonzalez began collecting provisions for some of the hardest hit areas of the U.S. Virgin Islands through Puerto del Rey Marina located in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, where he serves as director of sales. Carolina Corral ’08 VSB, CEO of Puerto del Rey—the largest marina in the Caribbean—gave Gonzalez the full support of the company and its resources to assist in the effort.
Fast forward a week and Gonzalez’s efforts—thanks to an outpouring of community and corporate support, along with the efforts of a passionate group of fellow Villanova alumni—have resulted in 21 shipping containers, several flights, dozens of trips on private vessels and even a cruise ship being sent out with supplies to different Caribbean islands.
“Many of us that grew up visiting these islands all seemed to have a similar idea at the same time and the movement spread like wildfire,” said Gonzalez. “It all started with a few text messages, then some phone calls and suddenly there were thousands of people bringing provisions. So much so that the National Guard was activated and called to one of our drop off centers at the Verdanza Hotel in Isla Verde to help deal with the insane amount of donations.”
In looking to extend his support for the victims of Hurricane Irma in the Virgin Islands, Gonzalez connected with a Villanova classmate, Jessica Schnell (Schuler) '06 CLAS, and together they brainstormed additional ways to get provisions—such as food, water, clothes, generators, tools and medicine—into to the islands from the continental U.S.
Schnell established communication channels with key point people on the islands of St Johns and St Thomas. In fact, not only did it assist them in shipping necessary supplies to those locations in the aftermath of Irma, but they began sending tarps to St. Johns ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Maria. Schnell also helped identify a solution for those in the U.S. looking to donate supplies to send packages to the islands via Amazon.
Tapping into the Villanova community for even more support, Gonzalez and Schnell connected with fellow Villanova alumni Elizabeth Schirmer Shores ’07 VSB, Enrique Peral '06 VSB and Sofia Montijo '06 VSB. Together, they’ve provided backing of all kinds, from financial and fundraising assistance to communication and technical support.
Many communities throughout the Virgin Islands are struggling with health and wellness issues from contaminated water caused by Hurricane Irma. In stepped Shores, who saw a need and had the solution through a water purification device she helped develop. The executive director of Untapped Shores International, Shores is co-inventor of a solar-powered water purification system. Through the support of a crowdfunding campaign, Untapped Shores International sent a shipment of the water purification devices to the islands—with the capacity to bring clean water to tens of thousands of people.
“Jorge (Gonzalez) ignited this whole process, but it is truly is a global Villanova effort,” said Shores. “We are receiving donations from multiple generations of Villanova alumni. This goes beyond just clean water and sanitation solutions to all disaster relief supplies which can help those living in the devastated communities of the Virgin Islands.”
Untapped Shores International is shipping additional units to help those impacted by Hurricane Maria.