If everything goes according to his hopes, Casey Barker of Nevada will be bringing his son who lives in Puerto Rico to Nevada next Thursday, Oct. 13.
Nevada is usually the summer home for Alejandro Barker-Ortiz, son of Casey Barker and Yadira Ortiz. Casey and Yadira met while Yadira was a student at Iowa State University. After Alejandro was born, she returned to her home and family in Peurto Rico, where she works as a biologist and heads a lab at the University of Peurto Rico. She provides the permanent home to Alejandro, but the now 10-year-old returns to Iowa each summer to spend time with his relatives here. He left from this past summer’s stay at the end of July.
Now his Nevada relatives, and especially Melanie Pilgrim, Casey’s mom and Alejandro’s grandma, have been trying very hard to get Alejandro to the United States, to escape the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria, which hit a little over two weeks ago.
Melanie serves as the family’s center of communications, having her phone with her at all times for calls from Yadira, and then relaying any word to Casey.
“Yadira has called twice (since the hurricane hit),” Melanie said. “The second time was from a bridge in the middle of nowhere… Communication is horrendous and next to none.” Everything has been so confusing and overwhelming for Yadira and her family, a family that includes Yadira’s parents and that both Melanie and Casey have visited in Peurto Rico and are close to. “Their family is our family,” Melanie said.
So to have family members suffering is emotionally draining for those back here, which also include Alejandro’s grandfather, Rick Barker of Nevada; along with grandparents, cousins and others.
First things first, Melanie wants to remind people that Puerto Ricans are United States citizens. And Alejandro, Melanie said, is a bright, funny, very mature and well mannered child. “He is an amazing kid,” she said. “His mother says he is more American than Puerto-Rican.” He lives with his mother, her significant other and his daughter, near San Jaun in the town of Gurabo.
While Melanie heard through National Public Rado — the media source that she has listened to daily for updates — that at the end of last week, 9 percent of Puerto Rico has power and 50 percent now has water, she knows how terrible the situation has been. She knows from Yadira’s last call that they did not have water and were not getting supplies that were being flown in. Melanie has heard first-hand about the long lines to get anything, and the difficulties of life when you have no power or just spotty power.
“Yadira had 18 gallons of water saved before the hurricane hit, for drinking and a little more for the toilet and sink baths, and that was two weeks ago taking care of four of them,” Melanie said.
Taking advantage of the powers of social media and the ease of the internet for people back here, Melanie started an online donation page to help the family in Puerto Rico: YouCaring.com. If people search that site for “Help Alejandro,” they will see that she’s raised a bit over $2,000 so far to help. Some of that money is going to be used for the plane trip to get Alejandro to the United States, hopefully. His mother and the rest of the family won’t be coming, they believe they must stay and try to turn things around, but the hope is to get Alejandro back here until things get better there.
Melanie has also used some of the funds to help send canned goods and water to Yadira. “I bought $35 worth of groceries and it cost $200 to ship it priority mail to them,” she said. Three gallons of water, cost her $75 to ship. “That’s what the funds raised are also helping us do.”
Securing a plane flight for Alejandro has been unbelievably hard, with the mass exodus of people leaving Puerto Rico right now. But with private planes not being able to fuel up there, commercial airlines are the only way out. So Melanie and Casey hope that the plans they have made for Alejandro to fly back this coming week on Delta Airlines hold true.
“I think it’s hard for people to grasp the magnitude of this situation,” Melanie said. “This has become a life or death situation for many. (Bringing Alejandro here for awhile) is for his well-being.”
Melanie has talked to the Nevada Schools about putting Alejandro in a fifth grade class here if he is able to make it to Nevada. Casey, and his wife Claire, have been told by Lil’ Cubs Preschool, where their young son, Charlie, is cared for, that Alejandro will be able to come there before and after school.
“We sincerely thank everyone for their support, suggestions of help, their prayers and positive thoughts,” Melanie said.
Casey agrees and can barely talk from emotion when he thinks about his oldest son. He is sad that he hasn’t gotten to talk to Alejandro at all since the hurricane hit, and he said he lives with fear for his son’s safety.
“Alejandro just wants to talk to his daddy; he loves Casey so much,” Melanie said, putting her hand on Casey’s shoulder.
Whether Alejandro arrives in the coming week or not, Melanie will keep trying to help their family in Peurto Rico. She will continue to fight to keep awareness about the situation there in front of everyone’s eyes back here, as she prays that all in Puerto Rico can survive and move past the horrible tragedy that they’ve suffered.