Farragut Ingles, Army Reservists provide Puerto Rico hurricane relief

Customers filled a large collection box at Farragut Ingles with water bottles, canned food and dry items for victims of Hurricane Maria. The local Army reservists picked supplies up on Sunday evening, Oct. 8, but donations are being taken for the foreseeable future at the Reserve Center, 1334 E. Weisgarber Road.

On Thursday, Oct. 5, local armed forces reservists and a representative from Ingles Corporation in North Carolina were on hand at Farragut Ingles to promote the food drive.

“We’re thrilled to team up with the servicemen and being able to help in Puerto Rico any way we can,” said Farragut Ingles manager Jim Meschendorf.

Customer Dorothy Wilt stopped by the box to see what she could do. Josh Santos with the Bravo Company 49th Civil Affairs Battalion in Knoxville told her the biggest needs are bottled water, canned food, batteries and radios.

“I want to do something to help,” she said. “I feel so helpless. These people are suffering horribly.”

“This is not like other hurricane responses in Florida or Texas,” Santos said. “This one will be measured in months, not weeks or days. In Puerto Rico, you had a storm that knocked out all the first-world infrastructure that people rely on and take for granted. So the lights don’t turn on. The water doesn’t come on. That means the toilet doesn’t flush. The faucet doesn’t work. So think about that — you went from living in your home and having a pretty normal life to now you’re on an extended camping trip and you don’t know when it’s going to end.”

Lizmari Figueroa, a supply specialist for Bravo Company, is a native of Puerto Rico and has been stationed in Knoxville since 2015. Her family back home has endured the storm.

“It’s been really hard from day one,” she said, “because they live in the center of the island where it was really bad because of the hurricane. The food is a little slower [to arrive] than the city side, but it’s getting better. A lot of my cousins lost their houses. My mom lost a lot of stuff from the house because it got wet from the water that came in.”

Melissa Leavell, director of advertising for Ingles Corporation, was busy visiting five area Ingles stores the first week of October. The corporation bought time from a radio station to help promote the food drives and last month during hurricanes Harvey and Irma, donated ice.

“We don’t have stores in Texas or Florida,” she said. “We’re just helping because we want to.”