Ashley Alvarez had a hard couple of weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, devastating the island’s infrastructure and knocking out power to most areas.

“I couldn’t sleep or study,” said Alvarez, a 24-year-old student at the University of New England College of Pharmacy.

Alvarez’s mother was born and raised in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, and much of her family still lives there, including her grandmother in Toa Baja and her father’s family in Isabela. Alvarez naturally worried about their welfare in the aftermath of the storm, and she decided to do something about it.

She and two other Maine residents who were born and raised in Puerto Rico, Roberto Rodriguez and Blanca Santiago, recruited volunteers to organize a restaurant fundraiser that will send much-needed help to the victims still struggling to find food, clothes and water. Aiding them are Portland City Councilor Pious Ali and Coffee By Design co-owner Mary Allen Lindemann.

On Nov. 14, participating Maine restaurants will donate a portion of their day’s sales to the fundraising effort, which is being called ¡P’Alante! Maine, or “Let’s Go” Maine. The restaurants will choose one of two charities to contribute to, both of which were selected by organizers of the event. One charity, the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Disaster Relief Fund, is a well-known Latino nonprofit. The other, One America Appeal, was founded by the five living former U.S. presidents to support recovery efforts along the Texas Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey, and was subsequently expanded to include Puerto Rico.

Alvarez, who last visited Puerto Rico in 2013, said her grandmother has no power, some food and just a little water. She’s drinking bottled water because the water from her faucet is dirty.


“My cousin, they don’t have any food right now and limited water,” Alvarez said. “It’s hard to get to the stores. They have to wake up at 4 a.m. just to get to the supermarket.”

She said even if her family can make it to the supermarket, sometimes there is no food and they get turned away, or prices have been hiked to the point where they are unaffordable.

Launching the restaurant fundraiser in Maine has given Alvarez a way to deal with her sense of helplessness.

“Now I feel that we are able to at least do something, and I feel better,” she said.

Sixteen restaurants from Eliot to Orono have signed up for the fundraiser so far, including Salvage BBQ and Solo Italiano in Portland; the organizers are working to sign up more. For an up-to-date list, go to or

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