Solar Panels & Team Work Bring Light to Puerto Rico

Posted on March 12, 2019 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

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Responding to government delays that have left Puerto Ricans still reeling from the category 5 Hurricane Maria storm that hit this U.S. territory back in September 2017, a disparate group of organizations and volunteers pulled together by Catholic Charities Bronx Director Rev. Eric Cruz literally brought light in the form of solar panels to a small part of this darkened, electricity-deprived island. 

Even before the hurricane hit, Puerto Rico faced challenges to its power grid.  After it hit, the loss or electrical power in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands marked the second biggest blackout in the history of power on earth.  Installing solar panels offered a clear solution. 

So, following months of meetings, measuring and strategizing last week Let’s Share the Sun, a solar energy foundation led by Bill Jordan, a former Notre Dame dorm mate of Fr. Cruz, worked with student volunteers from Siena College, Loudonville, NY. First, Let’s Share the Sun staff met San Juan Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez, the archbishop of San Juan who graduated from Siena College and counts Fr. Eric as a friend.  Siena College students, in turn, volunteered to help with construction.  And Fr. Eric suggested El Mesón de Amor as the site after touring it during a Catholic Charities NY mission trip to deliver food and supplies in 2018.

“Fr. Eric was the guiding light towards connecting the right people for this to be successful,” Mr.  Jordan said.  “He knows the playing field in Puerto Rico from his interacting on the island on behalf of the Church and Catholic Charities.”

Comite Noviembre, a New York-based Puerto Rican heritage foundation closely aligned with Catholic Charities NY restored El Mesón de Amor last year.  Translated in English to “the Inn of Love,” this site now provides free meals four days every week to 125 low-income students who attend the University of Puerto Rico across the street.

“Thank you, Fr. Eric Cruz, the Let’s Share the Sun Foundation and Siena College students for your work and vision,” said Comite Noviembre founder Teresa Santiago.  “We are thrilled!”

New York City now houses nearly as many people of Puerto Rican descent as Puerto Rico itself. Because of this close connection, Fr. Cruz, also of Puerto Rican descent, accompanied Catholic Charities NY and Comite Noviembre on multiple mission trips to assist islanders devastated by the storm.  Recent trips provided 20,000 meals for Puerto Rican families thanks to donations from the Goya Foundation that often partners with Catholic Charities NY, book bags filled with supplies for school children studying in buildings hit by the hurricane and support for Catholic Charities NY partner organizations on the island including New York Foundling and Caritas de Puerto Rico.

This is just the beginning, Mr. Jordan says.  Solar panels installed last week will provide the energy El Mesón de Amor needs to feed the college students and maintain a food pantry, educational workshops, training classes for adults and afterschool programs for children.  Next up are plans to install additional solar panels so an empty floor in the building can be converted into 25 dorm rooms for low-income students, responding to a key need after the boarding up of a former 50-story University of Puerto Rico dormitory after the hurricane.

“People love across these great divides of distance,” Fr. Eric says.  “This further connects New York and Puerto Rico, leads to more relationships and creates ones that last forever.”

Watch this inspiring video documenting the group’s success and witness their mantra, “When action meats compassion lives change forever.”