Some South Jersey residents have not forgotten about the suffering people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island even as the headlines about the disaster there have given way to new calamities.

Atlantic City-based attorney Jonathan E. Diego, one of the founding members of the Hispanic Lawyers Organizations, and Atlantic City’s Bert Lopez, the host of the Latino Motion public affairs show, joined an ad hoc group called “Boricuas From New Jersey Para Puerto Rico.”

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, this group has raised more $93,000 through events and honor boxes placed at various South Jersey Federal Credit Union locations.

Diego, 50, who is part Latino and part Hungarian, is on the board of directors of the Spanish Community Center in Atlantic City. It was closed for three years after Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“Besides the fact that we have friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues down in Puerto Rico that are handling this firsthand, we got a little taste of that by the fact of what Superstorm Sandy did,” said Diego, who lives in Egg Harbor Township.

Lopez and Diego joined a group spearheaded by state Senator Nilsa Cruz-Perez, who is based out of Camden, called the Puerto Rican Congress of New Jersey, which is based out of Lakewood, Ocean County.

The money that been donated has ranged from the change in an elderly person’s pocket to a five-figure check from a corporation, Diego said. He would like to see the fund reach $100,000.

By late this month or early next month, Diego said, his group will make a decision on how best to distribute the money it has collected to best help people in Puerto Rico.

Part of the $93,000 was raised during a Hurricane Maria Relief Fund Community Event held Oct. 8 at the Pleasantville Parking Lot.

Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle and Diego reached out to Pleasantville Police Chief Sean Riggin to involve police with the Oct. 8 event.

Riggin was flying back from the Virgin Island of St. John, where he evacuated his father-in-law. He gave the department’s full support upon receiving the call.

“Pleasantville has one of the highest Latino populations in Atlantic County by percentage,” Riggin said. “This isn’t a do-good cause for us. We have a social obligation to our residents to do everything we can to help with Puerto Rico.”

The Press of Atlantic City and Catamaran Media joined the Hammonton Puerto Rican Civic Association to collect emergency supplies for those affected by the passage of hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico.

Lopez, a former founder of the Hispanic Alliance, came to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico at age 6. By coincidence, his father came to the mainland just two months before Hurricane Maria, but Lopez’s aunts, uncles and cousins remain on the island.

As Diego organized the benefit in Pleasantville, Lopez helped pull together a fundraising rally on the same day in Atlantic City.

“People have been very generous. They’ve been very supportive. ... They want to donate. They want to help. They want to be a part of this relief effort. I think there is a lot of people with open hearts, who are willing to give,” Lopez said. “This is not a short-term effort. It’s a long-term effort.”

A telethon, scheduled to air on Nov. 19 on SNJ Today, is being organized by the CEO Group in Vineland and the Puerto Rican Action Commitee of Southern New Jersey, which represents Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties.

A Unity March for Puerto Rico, which will have South Jersey residents in attendance, is taking place Nov. 19 also at the Mall in Washington, D.C.

While hurricanes were hitting U.S. territories and the mainland, wildfires have been hitting California.

Larry Sharrott, the owner of Sharrott Winery near Hammonton, has links on his company’s website to donate to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund and Community Foundation of Sonoma County’s Resilience Fund, along with the International Medical Corps and United for Puerto Rico.

Sharrott, 69, who lives in Tabernacle, Burlington County, said people told him he should help out his brothers and sisters in the wine industry.

“I thought about it for a minute and said, ‘You know, we really should help out all people. The folks in Puerto Rico really need help,’” Sharrott said.

People in Puerto Rico have limited resources and limited ability to generate income now because their economy is tourism-based, Sharrott said.

“I felt more of us should step up to help in Puerto Rico,” he said.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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