HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — For weeks, the Rev. Hector Otero has been arranging shipments of bottled water, medical equipment and other supplies to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. He recently became aware that residents on the island could use something else: bicycles.
September's hurricane left many roads in bad shape and many residents, especially in the mountains, stranded without transportation.
Otero, pastor of Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal church in New Haven, connected with Paul Hammer, a board member of the Connecticut-based organization Bikes for Kids .
Hammer reached out to others and began to form a loose coalition of community bicycle organizations in the state to work on the problem.
About half of them, mostly mountain bikes, are being sent to Puerto Rico in a shipping container next week along with other supplies, Otero said. They are heading to mountain towns such as Comerio, Orocovis and Baranquitas where it is still difficult to navigate damaged roads by motorized vehicles.
"We hope this will help move people to their jobs or students to their schools," Otero said.
Hammer said the organizations plan to continue collecting and repairing bikes for future shipments.
They also are working on bikes for children whose families were displaced by Hurricane Maria and have since moved from the island to Connecticut, which has a large Puerto Rican population.
Those bicycles will be given out during a Three Kings Day celebration on Jan. 6 in New Haven organized by the city and ARTE Inc., a nonprofit organization that promotes education, art and culture in the Latino community.
Hammer said this project has helped pave the way for what may become a permanent consortium, pooling the resources of numerous organizations that already recycle bicycles in their local communities.
"For a small state, we have an abundance of community bicycle programs that all do different things, but all recycle bikes," Hammer said. "There are so many bicycles in attics and basements, garages and police stations — abandoned bikes. This is a way of refurbishing these bikes and putting them in the hands of people who need them."