Recently at bedtime, my 9-year-old daughter asked if nightlights still worked in Puerto Rico. Without them, she worried, wouldn’t kids be scared in the dark? Two months after two hurricanes thrashed Puerto Rico, only about half of the island’s electricity has been restored — and even those areas continue to find themselves plunged into unexpected periods of darkness. In the longest and largest blackout in U.S. history, more than a million fellow Americans are still without power. For many, it won’t be back up until the spring.
Wondering how to help families in need, I recalled an innovative product showcased at the Clean Energy Trust Challenge in Chicago a few years ago. Two grad students, Andrea Sreshta and Anna Stork, invented LuminAID inflatable solar lanterns expressly for disaster relief. They won the challenge’s top prize and went on to make a deal with Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank.” Today, LuminAID models include phone chargers as well, and have been used in more than 100 countries around the world.
Before the storms, more than 40 percent of Puerto Ricans were living below the U.S. poverty line. Now, while trying to recover from hurricane damage, the prolonged power outage makes their lives harder. Generators are expensive and scarce. People must find new ways to store and cook food; charge phones to keep in contact with loved ones and access basic services; cool off in hot humid weather; and illuminate their homes. This time of year in San Juan, night falls early — around 6 p.m. until sunrise at 6:30 a.m. It’s hard to imagine living in darkness week after week.
To help families feel safe and connected, I’ve teamed up with Chicago-based LuminAID and other groups to send thousands of solar lanterns and phone chargers to Puerto Rico as fast as possible.
You can help us. Through November, donations for solar lanterns ($10 each) online will be matched by the Hanley Foundation, Invenergy, the Lumpkin Family Foundation, and Harold M. and Adeline S. Morrison Family Foundation (to $20,500). It’s an easy, inexpensive way to provide families with hours of free, safe light and phone power — no diesel, batteries, or flames required.
In late October, LuminAID founders were in Puerto Rico with their distribution partner, Convoy of Hope. They witnessed firsthand how lanterns and phone chargers bring back a sense of normalcy to people’s lives. Following the recent hurricanes and earthquakes, more than 30,000 LuminAID lights + phone chargers have been pledged for relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, Mexico, and across the Caribbean.
Climate change is intensifying natural calamities throughout the world, and sadly this will not be the last humanitarian crises. Clean energy solutions play an important role in disaster relief and ultimately in rebuilding resilient communities. In support of just, renewable solutions, a coalition of nine local nonprofit partners is helping promote the Chicago Shines a Light on Puerto Rico campaign, including the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago Women in Green, Clean Energy Trust, Delta Institute, Faith in Place, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Illinois Environmental Council, Go Green Illinois, and Natural Resources Defense Council. #Chicago4PR
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This piece was originally posted with Make It Better November 20, 2017