After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 16 and a 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook up central Mexico, the United Community Center (UCC) began to receive a massive amount of phone calls from the Milwaukee community asking one simple question: how can we help?
“We received so many phone calls from community members asking how they can get help for their families that were affected by the disasters, as well as questions on how they can help others,” said Juan A. Ruiz, deputy director of UCC. “We had to do something on a larger scale here in Milwaukee to bring even more awareness to the fact that many people lost absolutely everything. And awareness about how donations are critical to those in need to help rebuild their lives.”
That’s when UCC director Ricardo Diaz, alongside Juan Ruiz and the UCC staff, decided to organize a fundraising event called “Los Sonidos Unidos” (united sounds) a benefit concert to donate money for both Mexico and Puerto Rico. UCC partnered up with the American Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin to get other organizations on board and to properly distribute the donations evenly among both effected areas.
“Los Sonidos Unidos” took place on Oct. 15 at the Turner Hall Ballroom in downtown Milwaukee, near the Bradley Center. Not only did attendees get to enjoy the stylings of several musical groups, but they also got to taste a diverse amount of cuisines throughout the evening. Alongside UCC, the event was hosted and sponsored by the UWM Roberto Hernandez Center, La Casa de Esperanza, St. Anthony School of Milwaukee, and Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee.
“UWM was proud to sponsor this great event through the Roberto Hernandez Center and its director, Alberto Maldonado,” said UWM Chancellor Mark Mone.
Other sponsors include, The Medical College of Wisconsin, Carroll University, The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation, Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Bruce Guadalupe Community School. All of these organizations not only donated to the cause, but also had several volunteers helping out. Some notable donations included: Northwestern Mutual with $1,000, St. Anthony School, they raised and donated $2,200, one dollar for each of its students, Catholic Financial with $10,000, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s office, which donated $25,000 and Rockwell Automation whose headquarters are here in Milwaukee, donated $50,000 towards relief efforts. Checks were presented throughout the night on stage by the sponsors.
Individual donations were able to be made in the form of cash, check or card at the entrance table, with the American Red Cross. A donation of $20 was recommended to attend, but attendees were allowed to give as much as they pleased. People could specify which relief effort they wanted to their money to go to, or they could donate and the unspecified donations would be split 50/50 between both Puerto Rico and Mexico.
Although Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico over a month ago, the island is still living in the dark without electricity. Sanitary drinking water is also scarce, forcing residence to turn to risky sources, to get it. The death toll as of today is at 49. Recently, the Mexican bishops’ conference announced that they had raised around $900,000 to assist with relief and rebuilding. It will also be used to build relief centers for those who were left homeless from the earthquake. The current death toll is up to 370.
An endless line of food partners donated their time and cuisines to cater the event and ensure a tasty night. A few vendors included: The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation’s Coffee with a Conscience, Cubanitas, serving signature Cuban delights, Antigua Mexican restaurant, Café El Sol, Riviera Mya, Bel-Air Cantina, and the Marcus Theater, who donated bags of popcorn for people to munch on.
While mingling and munching on the plethora of food options, a diverse group of performers entertained and uplifted the crowd with their wide range of talents. Panadanza Dance Company, founded and lead by UWM alumni Karlies Kelley, preformed an upbeat traditional Puerto Rican dance called bomba y plena. The dance had the crowd on its feet and moving to the beat. Another crowd favorite was the Afro-Latin fusion group called Andino. The musical group echoed its soulful beats through Turner Hall as people enjoyed themselves.
“I’m not exactly sure how much we have collected, only because there has been a ton of cash donations that need to be counted,” said Rachel Bennett, American Red Cross staff member. “But, with the amount of people who we see here and counting the donations from the different organizations, I’m positive we will be able to make an impact with what the Red Cross, UCC and all the other sponsors have done here,” said American Red Cross staff Rachel Bennett.
As of Oct. 18, Patty Flowers, chief executive for the American Red Cross-Wisconsin announced in an email to all sponsors that the total amount received in donations from Los Sonidos Unidos towards Puerto Rico and Mexico relief efforts was at $115,643. $90,000 was received in check presentations, $23,178 in cash, checks and credit card donations from attendees, and $2,465 from the United Community Center’s microsite.
If you wish to donate towards relief efforts through UCC and the American Red Cross please visit: https://www.redcross.org/donate/cm/unitedcommunitycenter-pub