Local church to repair homes in Puerto Rico destroyed by hurricanes


Puerto Rico remains in ruins a year-and-a-half after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island. Villages, roads and homes are still in disrepair despite $320 million in FEMA aid.

“Blue tarps continue to dot the island, covering exposed roofs,” Joanne Tunison, a congregant of the First Presbyterian Church in West Elmira, said. “A lot of poverty was seen, homelessness that I have not seen before.”

That includes the two homes where two ill-stricken women live. Right now, members from the First Presbyterian Church, lead by Tunison, are set to repair their homes with new roofs, walls and remove mold.

“I believe that the call to action came from God,” Tunison said. “I believe very strongly that I need to be the hands and feet of Jesus as is the motto of this church.”

She will not be alone. They have more volunteers joining them. 

Debbie Todd is one of those going with them as well as Tunison’s husband, Ron.

“It was heartstrings as well that called and God is probably working those,” Todd said.

Tunison recently returned from Puerto Rico in January and was also there in August. The August trip is when she found out about the two women after talking to a pastor there.

“We asked her to identify the homes in the most urgent need,” Tunison said. “She was able to pinpoint these two homes immediately.”

Tunison said they hope to finish rebuilding the homes in two weeks. They raised over $37,000 for materials and labor, all made possible from donations. The volunteers said they paid for their trips to Puerto Rico. 

“We’re doing real construction so we had to hire a contractor,” Ron Tunison said. “Joanne just made a recent trip to sign the paperwork.”

The materials purchased are sourced locally in Puerto Rico. They also hired a contractor there to help in the reconstruction.

“They are fellow citizens. They’re fellow human and this is being done for all the right reasons.”

Tunison said anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, can join them on their trip. Future mission trips are to be planned.

They leave February 17 and return February 23. Tunison said she will stay in Puerto Rico past that date.

If you would like to help, you can make donations to the First Presbyterian Church where donations will be utilized in reconstruction efforts in Puerto Rico. They also encourage donations consisting of Walmart gift cards. People will specialty services such as contractors are encouraged to travel with the group.

The church is located at 1054 West Clinton Street in West Elmira. For more information, you can contact Joanne Tunison at (607) 734-1614.

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