SAN JUAN (CBSMiami) – For many victims of Hurricane Maria, the first signs of help come from fellow Americans, not U.S. officials.
Margarita DeLema had no time to spare when found out she had a seat on a plane from San Juan Puerto Rico to Miami.
“In half an hour I packed my bag with a few things,” DeLema said.
The 92-year-old says she knew she had to leave after Hurricane Maria. The elevator was out in her fifth floor apartment.
“I had no water for four days, no electricity,” she said.
Miami-based chef Ingrid Hoffman is helping bring hurricane victims like DeLema to the U.S. mainland.
She’s organized 20 private flights that drop off thousands of pounds of supplies, then return with evacuees.
“We don’t have to go through the red tape. We just go,” Hoffman said.
Everything, including the jets, is donated.
“You see the families receiving them on this end and it makes me want to cry that’s what keeps all of us going,” Hoffman said.
Michael Capponi volunteers with Hoffman. He estimates their grassroots group has already gathered 3 to 5 million pounds of supplies from across the country.
“We’re gonna fill each container with a little bit of water, a little bit of food a little bit of medical supplies, some generators,” Capponi said.
DeLema is appreciative of the help for her island and herself.
“It was sad but rewarding to know that the people came for you and they love you and that means a lot you know,” DeLema said.
She is now staying with family friends, but plans to go back to Puerto Rico some day.
Hoffman says one reason private relief efforts are so critical is the flexibility at smaller airports compared to the main ones. She says unloading supplies is a quicker process than doing it on a commercial tarmac, which can take several hours.
Also helping with the cause is former New York Yankees star Jorge Posada.
Posada and his wife Laura were both born in Puerto Rico and have been very active in relief efforts.
On Monday the couple left for the island on a cargo plane filled with over 150,000 pounds of supplies.
It’s the fifth time that the Posada’s have been to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit.