The Maria Fund was formed on September 20, the day that Hurricane Maria hit land in Puerto Rico.
Experience from past disasters including Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy shows that vulnerable communities are hit the hardest by climate disasters and are far too often left underserved by relief agencies — in this void, it is the people, grassroots initiatives, and community organizations that fulfill vital needs. Further, after the emergency has passed, these communities are often displaced or left out of rebuilding initiatives as developers and corporations use the destruction as an opening for permanent displacement of the people who live there and launch rebuilding initiatives aimed at turning a profit and privatizing public services.
The Maria Fund was launched within this context — with a mission to support frontline efforts to fulfill immediate relief needs and to organize for an equitable Puerto Rico over the long term.
The Maria Fund believes that:
- Organizing is critical. In both the short and long run, the biggest factor in establishing a more equitable and sustainable Puerto Rico is the people. The Maria Fund supports the organizing efforts of the people to rebuild a new and just Puerto Rico.
- Support goes to the frontlines. The people and organizations at the grassroots are leading the day-to-day recovery and rebuilding a new Puerto Rico. The Maria Fund is dedicated to supporting these initiatives.
- The focus is on the long-term recovery. The impact of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been devastating, and it is why the Maria Fund has actively supported immediate relief efforts. In the months and years to come, Hurricane Maria’s impact on the economy, the energy system, schools, agriculture, and all facets of society will continue to be felt. As such, the Maria Fund is dedicated to supporting organizing efforts to achieve a just and equitable Puerto Rico.
- This was not just a natural disaster. The heartbreaking suffering experienced by Puerto Ricans is not just from a normal storm. Hurricane Maria was a climate disaster that struck a place that, as a U.S. colony, had already been stripped of political power, faced corruption and a failing economy, confronted skyrocketing poverty, crippling austerity, and a crumbling infrastructure. The Maria Fund supports initiatives that address and seek to transform the root causes of these problems.
- A new Puerto Rico is possible. Hurricane Maria has created a critical moment of change for Puerto Rico. The Maria Fund is dedicated to supporting the people, initiatives, and organizations dedicated to the transformation of Puerto Rico’s future into one of equity, justice, and sustainability.
- An Advisory Committee directs funding to grassroots initiatives. The Maria Fund Advisory Committee is made up 100% Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico and the United States.
An Advisory Committee of individuals deeply connected to Puerto Rico was set up after the storm to carry out the mission of the Maria Fund. The committee is made up entirely of Puerto Ricans and aims for 50/50 representation from individuals based in Puerto Rico and individuals in the United States. All committee members are volunteers united by the vision of the Maria Fund.
Initial committee members include:
Ms. Arce is a committed individual with a deep passion for community service and environmental stewardship. She serves as the Central Florida Regional Director at Organize Florida, where she focuses on electoral organizing in Orange and Osceola counties, and has also served as the Florida State Coordinator for Mi Familia Vota Education Fund. Ms. Arce holds a Bachelors of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.
Lah Tere, a Chicago Native and first generation diasporic Borikena, is a global teaching youth ARTivist, Real Time Results Facilitator, and Co-Founder of Momma’s Hip Hop Kitchen. As an ASPIRAnte she implements Dr. Antonia Pantoja’s philosophy of Awareness, Analysis, and Action in all of her life’s work. Her fervor is fueled by helping youth shift their misfortune into a positive energy, turning trials in triumph.
Karina Claudio Betancourt
Karina is a program officer on Puerto Rico matters with the Open Society Foundations. She is an organizer with extensive experience empowering workers, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, and people at the intersection of these identities. Prior to OSF she was the Senior Director for community engagement in the office of NYC Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Before this, she oversaw the LGBTQ and Long Island organizing work at Make the Road New York. Karina grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico and currently lives in Brooklyn.
A journalist with four decades of experience covering issues of government and politics, Laura studied Literature and Journalism at the University of Puerto Rico and at Northeastern Illinois State University in Chicago, where she graduated in 1972. Ms. Candelas is a community leader in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she has lived for many years. She was raised in Cidra, in the heart of Puerto Rico.
Xiomara Caro Diaz
Ms. Caro Diaz is part of the Organizing and Capacity Building Team at the Center for Popular Democracy and provides support to social movements in Puerto Rico struggling against the debt and austerity measures proposed by a Fiscal Control Board. She holds a Juris Doctor from the Law School of the University of Puerto Rico and a Bachelor’s Degree in Public Relations from the University of Florida.
Mr. Gonzalez was one of the founding members of Make the Road New York, a city-wide organization that builds the power of Latino and working class communities to achieve dignity and justice through organizing, policy innovation, transformative education, and by providing survival services. In 2011, Jesus became the youngest person to run for the NY State Assembly.Mr. Gonzalez is a Bushwick, Brooklyn native.
Mr. Jacobs-Fantauzzi is an award-winning filmmaker. A graduate of UC Berkeley, he received his MA degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. He is the founder of FistUpTv and the co-founder of Defend Puerto Rico. His dedication to his craft is deeply connected to his commitment to social justice and the belief in the transformative power of storytelling.
Wilfredo López is a native of Comerío, Puerto Rico where he began his community, union, and cooperative organizing work. He has dedicated his life to organizing and community work from different fronts: in his neighborhood Sonadora, in Aguas Buenas, from the Alliance of Community Leaders and in entities such as the Community Press and the Office of Special Communities.
Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan
Ms. Bannan is an Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, focusing on working with low-wage Latina immigrant workers. She graduated from CUNY School of Law, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the CUNY Law Review. Ms. Bannan is President of the National Lawyers Guild, the nation’s largest and oldest progressive bar association, and Co-Chairs its Subcommittee on Puerto Rico.
The Maria Fund receives support from individual donors throughout the world, major philanthropic organizations, and a range of fundraisers. As of December 2017, the Maria Fund had raised approximately $4.5 million.
Support received includes:
- Individual Donations. Giving from tens of thousands of individuals who have generously donated to the Fund at whatever level they are able. This grassroots giving makes up more than half of the funds received.
- Foundation Grants. The Maria Fund has received grants from philanthropic foundations interested in support grassroots efforts in Puerto Rico. In addition, the Maria Fund has guided several grants directly to critical frontline projects in Puerto Rico.
- Fundraising Activities. Individuals and groups organize fundraisers and send their proceeds to the Maria Fund. These fundraisers include everything from benefit albums to restaurant happy hours, from small to large events with well-known celebrities.
The Maria Fund is housed at the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Funds are disbursed to organizations and initiatives that are driving critical work on the frontlines to meet immediate relief needs and organizing for the building of an equitable Puerto Rico. For a list of the initiatives supported by the Maria Fund, click here.