Ecuadorians in Queens Rally for Earthquake Relief

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Volunteers with the Consulate General of Ecuador in New York load a truck with supplies for Ecuador. (Caroline Spivack)

When news of the worst earthquake to strike Ecuador in seven decades reached New York, the city’s Ecuadorian community stepped up. In Woodside, Queens, boxes packed with food, clothes, and medical supplies were stacked to the ceiling of the Consulate General of Ecuador. Volunteers from across the borough loaded a truck with donations and passed out lists of items to those looking to help.

Sabrina Martinez, a volunteer from Kew Gardens, helped coordinate a small army of people shuttling in supplies and comforted those looking for ways to get in touch with their loved ones. Martinez herself has family in Guayaquil—one of the three major cities devastated by the earthquake. “When I heard, I dropped everything and called my family,” she said. “They were okay, thank God, so I came out here to help those who weren’t as lucky.”

At least 602 people were killed in Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, with the bulk of the damage in the cities of Manta, Portoviejo, and Guayaquil. A hundred and thirty people remain missing, 12,492 injured, and more than 26,000 are living in shelters. As Ecuadorian officials scramble to manage the aftermath, communities across the globe are mobilizing and foreign aid has begun to trickle in.

More than 137,000 Ecuadorians live in Queens, making it one of the country’s largest Ecuadorian communities, according to a 2013 Newest New Yorkers report. State Senator Jose Peralta, whose Queens district includes 46,000 Ecuadorians, has vowed to do all he can to assist in the relief efforts. “We are part of a larger family when a tragedy of this nature occurs,” said Peralta. “Today it was Ecuador but tomorrow it could be any other country and it’s important for us to come together.”

Peralta’s office has helped coordinated drop-off sites for donations and is working with Governor Cuomo’s office to charter a plane to fly supplies into Ecuador. His office has also partnered with the Red Cross to canvas along Roosevelt Avenue for those still trying to contact family in Ecuador. And on Sunday, Peralta is hosting a benefit concert to raise funds for victims and their families, at a Woodside club named La Boom. The event is scheduled from 1 to 7 p.m. and will feature artists and musicians from Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and the Dominican Republic with a suggested donation of $10. All proceeds will be donated to Unicef.

Meanwhile, Assemblyman Francisco Moya, the country’s first Ecuadorian-American elected to public office, has turned his Woodside office into a command center of sorts, where he is coordinating with the Ecuadorean consulate in Manhattan, as well as with civic groups and local officials. “Like many Ecuadoreans living in New York my first thought was to reach my family and friends still living in Ecuador to know they were safe,” said Moya. “Since then I have been working closely with members of the community and representatives from the government of Ecuador to connect families and organize relief efforts.”

On Wednesday, Moya gathered the borough’s Ecuadorian community at Saint Leo’s Church in Corona for a vigil. As the sun set and the sky darkened, candles were passed out to almost 100 people, some of whom wore Ecuadorian soccer jerseys and waved their country’s yellow, red, and blue-striped flag.

Gloria Baig, who emigrated from Quito to New York six years ago, brought her own lavender candle to burn and dedicated it to her friend in Manta who has gone missing since the earthquake.

“I was sitting at home watching the news and I couldn’t take it,” Baig said, her eyes wet with tears. “I came out to learn how I could help, because at a time like this everyone is family.”