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Salvation Army’s new divisional commander seeks to expand services

The Salvation Army is preparing to aid Puerto Rico and USVI communities during the upcoming hurricane season.

Bersabé Vera, who a little more than a month ago was appointed divisional commander of the Salvation Army in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, wants to see growth not only in the group of volunteers who aid the island’s most vulnerable communities, but also in the amount of funding available to do the work.

In an exclusive interview with News is my Business, Vera, who has been with the Salvation Army for 26 years and recently moved from the Chicago area, said she would like to see the group of 300 volunteers currently enrolled in the nonprofit’s ranks to be at least twice that.

“Right now, we’re preparing for the hurricane season. Our case workers are still serving Fiona victims. But this isn’t just about serving during hurricanes, we’re helping when other emergencies happen, like the recent floods we had,” said Vera, who is originally from Mexico. “Fiona happened two years ago and we’re still helping. Our service isn’t just when an emergency happens; our service goes deep into the year of service to families who are in the situation.”

“Right now, we’re training the people from our Emergency Disaster Service program on how to best serve the community. We have to be prepared for emergencies, and how we can be more effective,” she said.

Over the past few weekends, the Salvation Army has been active in communities in Mayagüez and Fajardo, where volunteers have been handing out 1,000 food baskets in events that Vera says have a multiplier effect on families.

“Let’s say each family has four people, then we’re reaching a minimum of 4,000 people per event,” she said.

The Salvation Army Emergency and Disaster Services operates in Puerto Rico with a $5 million annual budget, which Vera said could use another $2.5 million to be able to expand the organization’s scope of work.

“Yes, and to give maintenance to vehicles and buildings, and open Salvation Army offices and locations in places where it’s never been in Puerto Rico,” she said, noting that most of the money that the organization uses to operate in Puerto Rico comes from off-island sources.

She said more donations are needed and partnerships with the private sector “and there’s an opportunity to do that.” The Emergency and Disaster Services also gets money from its retail operations, or “La tiendita,” as she calls them. Those stores — where the organization sells donated items at low cost — are in Arecibo, Caguas, Fajardo, Ponce, Peñuelas, Mayagüez, Guayama, and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Not part of that division are the Salvation Army’s larger stores in Caguas and San Juan, which are run by the Adult Rehabilitation Center unit.

Meanwhile, Vera said she’s relying on her division’s advisory board to better assist local communities.

“I’m coming from Chicago, and although I’m the one giving direction I need to know that I have a group of professionals giving advice to me on how to best serve the community. I’m not the expert. The community is the expert and now I need to find the movers and shakers of the community to give direction to the Salvation Army,” she said. “Those people are going to bring other people to support the work we’re doing.”

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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