As well as providing an opportunity to mark the holidays, Saturday’s “Esparanza de Parranda” in Hartford highlighted an important need for those displaced by Hurricane Maria.
And that’s a warm meal.
A traditional Puerto Rican parranda is a holiday tradition where Puerto Ricans gather in groups to sing carols and celebrate their heritage. On Saturday night, danced and sang in the streets of Hartford, stopping by Mayor Luke Bronin’s home Saturday night en route to a final stop at City Hall.
For at least one night, Merely Torres-Garcia and her family got to eat a traditional meal and enjoy the comforts of home.
“We can talk Spanish,” Torres-Garcia said. “We can see the flag. We can eat our food. We can hear our music. And we need that. We need that to feel happy.”
In October, FEMA offered its Transitional Sheltering Assistance program to those displaced by Hurricane Maria. Torres-Garcia was accepted and placed by FEMA at the Red Roof Inn Plus in Hartford with her family - but life in a hotel means no kitchen.
“We don’t get used to eating microwaved stuff,” Torres-Garcia said. “We eat a lot of rice in Puerto Rico. We eat rice and beans and meat. In the microwave, it’s very difficult [to make that]. And my kids—it’s difficult for them too.”
Her two kids get breakfast and lunch at school, but Torres-Garcia eats all three meals in the hotel. Because she eats a lot of food that she isn’t used to, and because she sometimes drinks faucet water, she said it makes her dizzy. Sometimes she won’t eat.
The families reached out to local restaurants like Aqui Me Quedo and Comerio in hopes that they could cover maybe a meal a night for the families living at the hotel.
As of now, the families have a place to stay until January 13. FEMA said that could change if the governor of Puerto Rico asks for an extension of the assistance program.
Torres-Garcia said FEMA closed her case and that come January 13, her family will be homeless.