Forest Park parties for Puerto Rico

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Forest Parkers have an extraordinary capacity for compassion, even when the victims are 3,000 miles away in Puerto Rico. Their teamwork in raising funds for these victims is also impressive. A crew of volunteers is hosting the "Forest Park 4 Puerto Rico" fundraiser on Feb. 28, at McGaffer's, 7737 Roosevelt Road.

The event will feature complimentary pizza, pop and free live music, courtesy of The Redmonds. A $10 wristband entitles guests to all of these goodies, as well as the chance to buy raffle tickets and bid on silent auction items. Proceeds will go to the non-profit World Central Kitchen. This organization of celebrity chefs has served over 3 million meals to the people of this devastated island.

The impetus for this fundraiser came from Beti Atilano. When she approached Mayor Calderone about the project, he recruited his assistant, Sally Cody, and Edilia Powers, from Accounts Payable, to join the team. Powers is a native of Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, where her sister and brother live. So, helping the victims of Hurricane Maria is personal for Powers. 

Her sister, Lillian and husband, Wilfredo Martinez, were trapped by flooded streets for three weeks. They also lost power but were fortunate to have a generator. The couple brought pallets of drinking water to share with the people of their town and let them use their generator to charge cell phones. 

This spirit of giving is also alive in Forest Park. After Atilano proposed the fundraiser, Mayor Calderone spotted a TV broadcast about the World Central Kitchen. They seemed like the perfect partner, because 100 percent of the money they raise goes directly to the residents. Having fed a large portion of the population, the volunteer chefs are now shifting their focus to empowering Puerto Ricans. They are helping residents rebuild kitchens and restore restaurants. 

Besides supporting hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, Atilano has performed disaster relief in Texas and Florida. She said that the looks of gratitude on the faces of the recipients is priceless.  She's also very active in Forest Park, recruiting volunteers for Neighborhood Watch and promoting community events. Through these activities, she has gotten to know many business owners. When she called them to donate gift cards for the fundraiser, "99 percent" said yes.  Atilano moved to Forest Park 15 years ago and found the town to be very welcoming. She feels like she is part of a family. 

Pat Malone, the proprietor of McGaffer's, is a very important member of that family. When Cody called to ask if he would host the fundraiser, Malone was "all over it," immediately offering free food and beverages. Other local businesses got on board, thanks to the efforts of Powers. She reached out in person and online to gather sports tickets, hotel packages and gourmet meals for the silent auction. One organization she contacted immediately donated $1,000.  

The money is urgently needed, because many thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power, clean water and transportation. Powers sees Puerto Rico's troubles as partly political. She said that mainland politicians have shown indifference, while island politicians have been unable to coordinate relief efforts. That is why the funds from Forest Park will bypass politicians and go directly to help the people.

So, come to "Forest Park 4 Puerto Rico." It's a family friendly fundraiser, scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., so residents won't be out late on a school night. Atilano said that helping people in need brings her happiness. We can all share that feeling on Feb. 28, while rocking to The Redmonds. Sounds like too much fun for a Wednesday night.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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