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Puerto Rico and Mexico disaster relief
Photo courtesy: U.S. Navy

By James Mejía

When the earthquake hit, Sarah Gordon could see the ground move beneath her feet. She huddled under her administrator’s desk, as instructed, and could hear the screams and crying from some of the 2,000 students that attend the Mexico City school where she works. It was the second time that day the city’s earthquake warnings sounded – first for the annual drill, and then for the biggest earthquake to hit Mexico City since 1985.

“Every Sept 19 at 11 a.m. on the dot, the entire city does a simulacro (drill) – everyone did it. They have others throughout the year, but this one is very planned and programmed. It’s more like a memorial than it is a simulacro.” Gordon continued, “The earthquake hit an hour or an hour and a half later. I was thinking, ‘They’ve already done it [the drill], how could they do it again?’ then the ground started moving.”

Soon after the quake she marked herself as “safe” on Facebook adding, “Terrifying! In 20 years, I have never felt an earthquake so strong. We are doing fine, but a bit traumatized. I am amazed and humbled by the demonstration of solidarity for those who have been affected. Mexico has a huge heart.”

Outside the country, many have also displayed huge hearts. So many ‘Go Fund Me’ pages have been created to benefit Mexico that the site has organized them in one place. One hundred and thirty five pages are currently open requesting donations. Some are from Mexicans living abroad in Australia, the UK or the United States while others are from non-Mexicans that spent significant time living or traveling in Mexico.

The Loteria Grill restaurant in Hollywood, California was started by Mexico-City-born chef, Jimmy Shaw. His company put up a Go Fund Me request of $7,000 to send 500 tortas to Mexico for 7 consecutive days. The total amount received from his page was $7,570. According to a worker at the Hollywood store, “The tortas haven’t been sent yet and the project is on hold because of all the assistance that Mexico City is getting right now.”

Jennifer Torres is a Broomfield resident attending 10th grade at Jefferson Academy High School. Many of Torres’ family members live in Mexico City. She has received $1,902 of her Go Fund Me $2,000 goal. According to her page, the money will go to a family friend who has set up a rescue operation in Mexico City as well as Topos Mexico, a rescue group founded after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. “These funds will help distribute food, water blankets to anyones [sic] in need as well as help people who are still stuck in the debri [sic].”

Another locally generated fundraiser is billed as the “The Colorado For Puerto Rico and Mexico Benefit Concert” with hash tag #CO4PRMX. The event will be held in downtown Denver on Thursday, October 12. Organized by a group of Latino entrepreneurs, donations are being collected and organized by the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Boulder County and entertainment is being provided by Barrio E’, a Boulder County dance and culture organization. According to co-organizer, Stella Peterson of Stella PR + Marketing, they organized the event because “We have an obligation to be one, our community is stronger together.”

With numerous opportunities and requests, willing donors can often become confused with where money can be best spent. This is especially true given some efforts to take advantage of tragedy. After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, fraud was so rampant in donation requests and the rebuilding effort that the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) was founded. By the time that Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, hundreds of complaints had already come in from Florida and Puerto Rico, causing the NCDF to join with Attorneys General from Florida and Puerto Rico to combat fraud.

When Houston flooded, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton reported over 500 complaints to his office hotline reporting donation scams.

The U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team US-CERT warns against emails sent with malware or spying programs intended to infect computers. Frequently messages are sent with a tragedy in the subject line and requesting donations to nonexistent nonprofits. US-CERT cautions to not open unsolicited links or attachments even if the emails appear to come from a trusted source. Other tips and cautions are listed under

The Federal Trade Commission lists ways to avoid fraudulent donation requests. They warn against organizations that don’t provide proof of tax deduction, use a name similar to a well-known nonprofit, ask for donations in cash or offer to send a courier for immediate donations. Their entire guideline list can be referenced at:

To avoid scams, donors can go to sites that evaluate organization effectiveness like Guidestar and Charity Navigator. On, ten organizations are ranked as either 3s or 4s (4 is most effective) for Mexican earthquake help and 14 are listed as 3s or 4s for Puerto Rico relief. Help for Mexican Earthquake and Hurricane Maria are listed as the top two ‘Hot Topics’ on their web site.

Perhaps to instill some faith back into the system, all living former presidents came together to ask U.S. residents to donate after Hurrican Harvey hit Houston. Now, some of these resources are also being sent to Florida and Puerto Rico. Their requests and donation procedure is available at

Those wanting to support individual efforts through campaigns like Go Fund Me can never be sure. The organization addresses that concern on their web site, “With hundreds of thousands of campaigns, it is not feasible for GoFundMe to investigate the claims stated by each Campaign Organiser. Rather, we provide visitors with the tools to make an informed decision as to who they choose to support. While GoFundMe and its payment partners do provide a number of safeguards to deter fraud, we must insist that visitors follow the advice stated on each and every campaign: ‘Only donate to people you personally know & trust.’”

As the Mayor of Puerto Rico, Carmen Yulín Cruz, said in media interviews this week, “This brings out the best in people, but it also brings out the worst in people.”





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