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Jeweler’s College-Age Granddaughter Singlehandedly Raises $90K; Charters Two Planes To Puerto Rico |  October 18, 2017 (3 comments)


Pittsburgh, PA—Rosana Elena Guernica, a junior at Carnegie-Mellon University and granddaughter of renowned Puerto Rican jeweler Marie Helene Morrow (Reinhold Jewelers), made national news when she almost single-handedly crowdfunded more than $90,000 in under three weeks to help her battered homeland. She is using the money to charter private planes filled with medical supplies, baby formula, batteries, gasoline containers, and more, after conferring with doctors and first responders on the ground in Puerto Rico about what was needed most urgently. At press time, she'd already chartered two planes that went and came back; fundraising for more is ongoing. (At left, Guernica is seated and ready to go.) 

While most Americans know the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria, Guernica, daughter of Morrow’s daughter Robin O’Neill Reinhold, knew the more personal stories of deaths that didn’t need to happen--and indeed, might not have happened if help had been available. The people who couldn’t get to a dialysis appointment. The ones who went into a diabetic coma because they couldn’t keep insulin refrigerated. The friend’s aunt who died from dehydration because there was no fresh water to drink for days on end. Another friend that had no water to mix with baby formula for her newborn. There are many more stories like those, and Guernica's focus has been on reaching remote mountain and coastal areas that are difficult to access.

"The supplies being collected are being held in inventory throughout the US and in the ports of San Juan," Guernica wrote in the description of the YouCaring page she set up from her Pittsburgh apartment. "By the time normal distribution channels open, it will be too late for the people who needed it most." Moreover, three weeks after the September 20 storm, 90% of the island’s residents remain without power and multiple reports say it could be six months or more—well into next year—before power is restored to parts of the island.

Even her grandmother thought she was crazy to try and charter a plane herself. But determination and compassion both run in the family. Marie-Helene Morrow built a hugely successful and nationally renowned 12-store jewelry business in Puerto Rico and even though her stores have been closed as a result of the storm, she is still paying her employees.

interior of Reinhold Jewelers' flagship store. 

So it’s not surprising that Guernica reached out to every single person in her contact list or from whom she’d ever received a business card. Whether old bosses, former colleagues, or even the Dean of Students at Carnegie Mellon, she begged for donations and shares of the YouCaring page. Within 48 hours the site had raised more than $11,000 and has been adding roughly $10,000 and 100 shares a day. On Monday of this week, the total stood slightly over $86,000 with 1,900 shares on Facebook; by press time Wednesday her efforts raised more than $99,255 and her page was shared 2,100 times on Facebook. Guernica has a third mission planned for October 28, she told The Centurion. Update: as of Thursday morning, 10/19, the total was more than $103,000.

It was due in no small part to the Carnegie Mellon community. The University’s dean of students shared it with Ann English, associate dean for finance and operations at the CMU’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. English then shared it with the entire Heinz alumni list, and the donations began pouring in. Within a week, Guernica had raised more than $48,000—enough to not only charter a private plane, but fill it with needed supplies. Traveling with Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican native and resident at Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, they took the first load of supplies to the island on October 4, returning with six critically ill patients and their families.

A tweet from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to help Guernica's cause.

Although Guernica was in the middle of mid-terms—and had a job interview scheduled—the devastation she saw on the first trip remained uppermost in her mind. “We need another plane,” she told Rodriguez.

The second plane—a much larger one that cost twice as much to charter—completed its mission Saturday. This one left carrying 2,000 pounds of supplies and four more CMU students and alumni pitching in to help; it returned with 30 critically-ill patients and their families. Unfortunately, one patient Guernica had been hoping to transport—the grandmother of a close friend—died in the meantime.

Guernica, in the red T-shirt, and a friend helping an elderly resident get ready to board the chartered plane to evacuate the battered island.

Apart from Guernica's being a Carnegie Mellon student, the city of Pittsburgh has a strong connection to Puerto Rico. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is a former Pittsburgher and CMU alumnus, and Roberto Clemente, the late legendary Pittsburgh Pirates right fielder, is a native of the island as well. All three of Pittsburgh’s major-league sports teams—the MLB Pirates, NFL Steelers, and NHL Penguins—have raised more than $50,000 and donated more than 450,000 pounds of supplies. And Highmark Blue Cross, also headquartered in Pittsburgh, donated 170 pounds of medicine for the municipal hospital of San Juan, said Guernica.

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Comments (3):

Yes Sir! That’s our baby!!!

By Marie Helene Morrow on Oct 22nd, 2017 at 1:26pm

So so proud of Rosana! 
Seeing her arrive at the airport in San Juan was a joy!

By Marie Helene on Oct 22nd, 2017 at 1:30pm

What an amazing person! I want to help.

By Howard Hauben on Oct 24th, 2017 at 6:42pm

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