Rebecca Rodríguez Reyes and her husband, Cheo, ran a popular bakery in Punta Santiago, Puerto Rico, before Hurricane Maria devastated the island nearly nine months ago. The bakery, Panaderia la Familia, was a family business that operated for more than 25 years and served as the only bakery in its community. After the storm, the husband and wife team spent days clearing away seaweed and mud so they could reach their equipment and sell bread on the side of the highway.
Panaderia la Familia has returned to about 75 percent of its normal operations, but like many business owners on the island, the Reyeses are still working to get back to normal. Google is helping make that happen by launching a recovery and resilience fundraising campaign on Friday, June 8, that will run until June 20, the nine-month anniversary of Hurricane Maria striking Puerto Rico. The company's philanthropic arm, Google.org, will match up to $2 million in donations, with celebrities including Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jennifer Lopez helping drive contributions. If the public contributions exceed the $2 million mark, Google will leave the platform open for more people to donate.
"We've done a lot to respond to crises as they happen, but this is our first pilot to try and draw attention and resources to the long-term recovery efforts," said Justin Steele, principal at Google.org, which has about 30 employees in Puerto Rico helping with rebuilding efforts.
Nine months after Hurricane Maria, the impact of the storm is still being measured. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health estimated the death toll could be as high as 4,645 people, mainly due to delayed medical care. That's a dramatic increase from the Puerto Rican government's official toll from December, which said that 64 people died from Hurricane Maria. Repairing the damage on the island and restoring tourism, which accounts for 6 percent of the island's economy, could take an estimated $90 billion, according to Google.
More than 10,000 of Puerto Rico's small and midsize businesses--about 20 percent of the total number--are still closed, according to Google.
The company partnered with two organizations to help in Puerto Rico: the Hispanic Federation and Mercy Corps. A nongovernment organization focused on supporting Hispanic communities, the Hispanic Federation will focus efforts on revitalizing small and midsize businesses, rebuilding agricultural industries, and transitioning to sustainable materials and structures. Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization, will help rebuild the economy, specifically by supporting tourism-oriented businesses.
Google.org launched in 2005 and works to support nonprofit organizations with tools like funding and volunteers from around Google. The philanthropic arm has donated more than $50 million to about 40 humanitarian crises since its founding.