Boise Woman Tries To Restock Empty Library Shelves In Puerto Rico

Apr 17, 2018

Recovery from a powerful hurricane continues in Puerto Rico about seven months after it hit the island. In September, Hurricane Maria slammed into the U.S. territory, causing an estimated $90 billion in damage, according to federal officials.

Marney Ellis was heading to the Caribbean island of Antigua for her mother’s birthday recently, but wanted to stop in Puerto Rico to help however she could.

“I could bring some things with me in an extra suitcase. There’s a lot of need,” says Ellis. “What’s the best thing for me to do?”

Instead, the Boise woman learned of a school library near the city of Humacao, a few miles north of where Maria made landfall.

All 20,000 books at Colegio San Antonio Abad had been lost in the devastation. The school serves about 360 children in grades 6 through 12, Ellis says.

Before officials restored electricity to the city, students at the school studied by whatever sunlight could enter through the windows, according to American Library Association president-elect Loida Garcia-Febo, who wrote an article about her trip across the Island in February

A professional grant writer by trade, Ellis applied for a $75,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation that would replace about 5,000 of the books.

“For many kids, especially in Puerto Rico, it’s the only access they have to books, learning materials, resources, support and I just felt like this could be a way I could give back to a community,” she says.

The number one priority for the library, Ellis says, would be to immediately replace books and materials relating to Puerto Rican history and cultural heritage.

Because of poor road conditions during her visit last month, it was too difficult to travel from San Juan, the capital, to Humacao during a two-day pit stop.

She hopes to make a return trip this summer if her grant is accepted by the foundation. Awards will be announced in the next few weeks.

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