It dawned on me, sitting at dinner last night in Fort Lauderdale, that my current trip is the longest I’ve spent in any one destination in probably 10 years. I checked in to the Fairfield Inn at Fort Lauderdale Airport last Monday night and will leave on Tuesday morning, an 8 night stay. I cannot remember staying anywhere this long in the recent past; I guess I just never had as good a reason to be in one place.
For the past week I worked with a team here to coordinate the packing of more than 40,000 pounds of supplies – food, water and other necessities – to ship in to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico as part of Operation Puerto Rico Care-Lift. We took dozens of pallets of food and goods and made “perfect” boxes, 40 pounds each, to be delivered to families on the island.
The goal is to sustain a family for a week, a stop-gap to be sure, while waiting for the real infrastructure to be repaired on the island. The group raised more than $170,000 and will ultimately push more than 100,000 pounds of supplies in to Aguadilla and then out in to the surrounding communities thanks to a team of people working on the ground.
How do you move that much stuff from South Florida to Aguadilla? It takes airplanes and crew and a major commitment. Ours came in the form of Spirit Airlines. The carrier operated a number of rescue flights to get passengers out of Aguadilla after Hurricane Maria passed through and we were able to put our supplies on those aircraft. Spirit has since restored scheduled commercial service (5x weekly) and we’re still using those flights to get our goods on to the island, 4,000 pounds at a time. Getting that to happen is not just a matter of the airline saying we can have the capacity in the belly. It takes coordination of dozens of people from the senior leadership teams down to ramp agents, all of whom are investing their own sweat to make sure the goods arrive where they are needed.
We have the help of Lufthansa Technik as well. Keeping supplies secure with such desperation everywhere around is not a trivial task. LHT is sharing its hangar on the airport ground with PR Care Lift, giving us secured space to stage our delivery operation from. Again, from senior executives down to the folks driving the tugs on the ground, it is a huge commitment from that team to whom we are eternally grateful.
As I scroll through the list of donations on the GoFundMe page I see so many names I recognize. Family, friends and friends of friends have stepped up huge. I know this is not nearly enough, but THANK YOU for everything.
As part of our efforts I’ve been contacted by a dozen or so other groups, all of which have supplies they want to move on to the island. Cleveland, Houston, Atlanta, Alabama, Orlando and other cities have goods ready to go. It is likely that most of these supplies will never make it to Puerto Rico. Whether by ship or by air it is logistically challenging and expensive. That is heartbreaking
Doing this meant, for the most part, dropping everything else in my life for a week. That’s a choice I made, of course. So did J.P. from Los Angeles and my wife, Linnea, joined me for most of the week, too. Nayomi split time between her job as a sales engineer and working as a bad-ass forklift operator to help us move goods around. Dave spent days in the warehouse moving pallets and driving the truck back to Sam’s or Costco over and over to collect more supplies; when he took a break from PRCareLift it was to distribute food in Miami. Chris and Carla Sloan have been fully dedicated to the effort since it launched with Lara Richardson a few weeks ago.
I’m headed home tomorrow. The boxes are packed and the supply chain for delivery to Spirit and then on to the island is mostly stable. I’ll be back to my usual crazy adventures (3 days in Barcelona plus 2 days in Tokyo before the end of the month, I think) soon enough. But this past week will live with me long after my sore muscles recover. The outpouring of support from everyone and the ability to truly make a difference is just incredible.
— Chris Sloan (@airchive) October 9, 2017
It is not an abstract “feel-good” relief effort. I’ve been neck deep in it and I could not be happier.
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