Concrete Ways to Support Puerto Rican Small Businesses Months After Hurricane Maria

The natural disaster left the island nation in a state of devastation. Here's how you can help locals get back on their feet in this urgent time of need.

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Dec 21 2017, 5:00pm

Photo via Flickr User U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Heisa Caolo, a young mom living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, saw her natural soap-making business close down when Hurricane María made landfall on the island in September. The lack of electricity and supplies left her unable to produce any of her products. And she hasn't been the only one.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen after a disaster, and 25 percent of those that do manage to reopen will fail within one year. In Puerto Rico the numbers are, so far, a lot worse. In fact, Nelson Ramírez, president of the Centro Unido de Detallistas (CUD), a small-business advocacy group in San Juan, has estimated that approximately 60 percent of the island’s 45,000 small and midsize businesses have closed temporarily.

“Hurricane María affected me in many ways and as an independent artist, even more. The lack of essential services like electricity and water has meant that I’ve had to stay closed for a lot longer than I should have,” Nieves Pumarejo, a Puerto Rican artist told VICE Impact.

For Giovanna Andrea Rodríguez, an artist who makes detailed nature art prints and jewelry that document and illustrate the fauna and flora of Puerto Rico, the difficulty was that many of the shops that sold her works closed down, leaving her with limited revenues.

But today the artists have a little more hope thanks to the launch of a website that lets people from across the world buy the artworks and products made by the island’s artists and small local businesses. Launched last week by Colmena66, Shop + Hire PR enables people outside of Puerto Rico to shop for products and ships them internationally (in time for Christmas).


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On sale are hundreds of products, from Caolo’s watercolors (she started painting as a form of therapy when her soap-business closed down) to Rodríguez’s delicate jewelry to locally-produced coffee.

“In times like these, it is extremely important for us to increase the visits to our websites to achieve more online sales. This is why the initiative of Shop+Hire PR has been a success and a great help for artists and small businesses in Puerto Rico,” Rodríguez told VICE Impact.

“Micro and small companies have a very important role in the economy and the export of their products in the Christmas season represents an opportunity for them to recover faster from the impact of the hurricane, but also so that they see the foreign market as a necessary long-term strategy for the sustainability of their businesses,” said Ricardo Llerandi, executive director of the Puerto Rico Trade and Export Company.

Shop+Hire PR is already proving a success.“We have seen many people who do not have a Latin name (or Puerto Rican name) and who do not live where the Puerto Rican diaspora are concentrated shop on our platform. It has increased and diversified our reach,” Alan Taveras the co-founder of Brands of Puerto Rico told VICE Impact.“And the future of our country depends 100 percent on the capacity and success of our entrepreneurs.”

To discover and support Puerto Rican artists and small business owners visit Shop+Hire PR (perfect for unique and thoughtful Christmas presents). And if you love the idea of super concrete ways to support Puerto Ricans this winter, here are 8 others.

1. Hire a Puerto Rican Freelancer

Looking for graphic designers, web developers or programmers, email marketers, or accountants? Also launched by Colmena66, Shop + Hire PR lets you connect with freelance professionals working remotely from Puerto Rico. The idea? Help you meet your tech and design needs while supporting Puerto Rico.

Hire a Puerto Rican freelancer here.

2. Make a Call to the Capitol Switchboard

The future of at least 250,000 Puerto Rican jobs continues to be at risk and not because of Hurricane María but a tax reform bill passed by Congress, which is currently being harmonized in a conference committee.

To safeguard jobs, Puerto Rico needs to be treated as domestic for tax purposes or given a special exemption from these rules, a reduced rate, or some other specially designed treatment to incorporate them as domestic corporations into the tax code. This is important considering the island’s already weak economy.

Call members of the tax reform congressional conference committee to let them know:
Sen. Orrin Hatch: (202) 224-5251
Sen. Pat Toomey: (202) 224-4254
Congressman Kevin Brady: (202) 225-4901
Congressman Peter Roskam: (202) 225-4561

3. Join this Call with The Hedge Fund Clippers and Senator Elizabeth Warren

Hedge funds, banks and corporations have had a lethal impact on Puerto Rico. The Hedge Clippers is an organization that exposes the mechanisms hedge funds and billionaires use to influence government and politics in order to expand their wealth, influence and power.

On January 10 at 8:30 pm EST, you can join the group on a special call with Senator Warren and advocates across the country to discuss how you can defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and protect critical reforms from attack by Wall Street and special interests in the new Congress and the new administration, to in turn, protect Puerto Rico.

4. Give Legal Advice

If you’re a lawyer, volunteer with Latino Justice. The organization provides legal aid and is organizing legal “brigades” to assist lawyers in Puerto Rico “filing FEMA claims, insurance claims, unemployment claims, and other claims related to public benefits.”

5. Send solar lights and chargers

The slow pace of restoring electricity following Hurricane María has become a symbol of the US government’s failed response to the disaster. As of December 15, only 64 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity has been restored. And not only. This week the Head of the US Army Corps of Engineer announced that Puerto Rico's electrical grid is unlikely to be fully restored until the end of May.

Launched by 15-year-old Salvador Gabriel, Light and Hope for Puerto Rico is an initiative in partnership with Solar Sister, The Laundry Alternative, and Cleancult, which aims to provide solar-powered lights, mobile phone chargers, and hand-powered washers to the Island.

For $100, you can provide solar light, mobile phone charger and non-electric portable washing solution for a Puerto Rican family who needs it. Send some solar kits here.

Casa Pueblo, a long-established community hub is leading a solar lighting project in the town of Adjuntas.

6. Adopt a Family

The aim of ‘Adopt a Family Puerto Rico’ is to speed up the Island’s recovery by cutting out the middle-man and providing locals with a more personal type of support. How does it work? A Puerto Rican family needing support signs up detailing exactly what they need. Those wanting to help, sign up detailing how much they can give. ‘Adopt a Family’ matches the two parties.

7. Buy Items from these Amazon Wishlists

Some organizations have put together Amazon Wishlist, so that you can contribute something tangible, not just cash.

This Amazon Wishlist, for example, assembled by Proyecto Matria helps support victims of gender violence and poverty in Puerto Rico. This Amazing Wishlist put together by Chabad Puerto Rico is to help give Christmas toys for children on the island.

8. Stay connected

Follow Cenadores PR. This group of Puerto Rican diaspora professionals in the US provides updates via Twitter and Facebook on the ongoing developments in Puerto Rico and ways that you can support Puerto Rico’s recovery.