Maine eateries join forces for Puerto Rico hurricane relief

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PORTLAND — From a feeling of pure helplessness grew the idea for a fundraiser that would have a direct, positive impact on Puerto Ricans still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, restaurants, breweries, cafes and sandwich shops in the area will join forces to aid ongoing relief efforts in Puerto Rico, according to Maine Restaurant Week, which is sponsoring the event.

Each participating business has committed to donating some amount of their pre-tax sales to specific charities providing aid to Puerto Ricans, many of whom still don’t have power or access to clean water six weeks after the storm hit the island in mid-September.

Establishments already signed up to take part include Sea Dog Brewing, DiMillo’s, David’s Restaurant, Salvage BBQ, Shipyard Brew Pub, Sisters Gourmet Deli and the Woodman’s Bar and Grill, among others.

Outside of Portland, The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth and Federal Jacks in Kennebunk, along with the Striper’s Waterside Restaurant in Kennebunkport, are taking part.

Businesses interested in being added to the list should call 450-1385 or email

Called, “¡Pa’lante Maine!” or “Let’s Go, Maine!” the fundraiser was the brainchild of several community leaders, including Blanca Santiago, a social worker with the Multilingual and Multicultural Center at the Portland Public Schools.

Santiago has lived in Portland for the past 30 years, but was born in Puerto Rico and still has family there, as does Roberto Rodriguez, one of the at-large members on the Portland School Board.

Santiago said this week that she and Rodriguez started talking about “what we could possibly do” to help out those so severely impacted by the storm.

As the conversations continued, Santiago said the pair eventually included City Councilor Pious Ali, who brought in University of New England student Ashley Alvarez, who, like the others, has family members in Puerto Rico.

“I wanted to do some type of fundraiser, but I was not really sure how to go about it,” Santiago said.

That’s when the group contacted Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of Coffee By Design, which has several locations around Portland. Lindemann then contacted Maine Restaurant Week and “the idea just grew and grew,” Santiago said.

While she and Rodriguez were eventually able to track down their family members, they realized the recovery from Hurricane Maria would be protracted.

“This won’t be an easy cleanup, as the whole island was affected,” Santiago said. “That’s why we thought, let’s do something that will make a difference.”

She said the group vetted several relief organizations and chose two that are providing direct, on-the-ground relief to residents. What was also important, Santiago said, is that both have low overhead.

Businesses participating in next week’s fundraiser will make direct donations to either the One America Appeal or the Hispanic Federation’s UNIDOS Disaster Relief and Recovery Program.

The One America Appeal was launched by the nation’s five former living presidents in September to respond to the series of hurricanes that hit U.S. states and territories in late summer. As of late October, the organization had raised $31 million, according to its website.

The UNIDOS Disaster Relief and Recovery Program was founded in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Its goal is to “serve the immediate and long-term needs of families and communities in Puerto Rico,” the organization’s website said.

“These organizations are vetted and doing good on the ground,” Santiago said. “Clean water is the No. 1 issue, but (access to) food is also really important, particularly to those in isolated areas.”

She said organizers know Portland is a place where people come together in a time of crisis to help those in need, so they’re hoping for robust donations.

“Everybody go eat out next Tuesday,” Santiago said.

This story has been updated to reflect that each business is individually choosing an amount to donate.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.