Full-time CSU student Stephanie Cruz aids Puerto Rico

Austin Fleskes

Correction: In the article “Full-time CSU student Stephanie Cruz aids Puerto Rico” published Thursday, Oct. 19, the name of the student, Stephanie Cruz was incorrectly stated to be Sophie Cruz. We have updated this article to reflect the correct name. 

Stephanie Cruz packs up another box bound for Puerto Rico, filled with supplies to try and aid relief efforts: water bottles, canned foods, hygiene supplies and more. 

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A girl with brown hair and glasses smiles at the camera
Stephanie Cruz, a master’s student in the toxicology program at CSU, is originally from Puerto Rico. She is the go to person in Colorado for sending donations to help those effected by Hurricane Maria. (Jenn Yingling | Collegian)

Cruz, a native of Puerto Rico, attends Colorado State University as a full-time graduate student pursuing her degree in Toxicology and is one of the go-to people for donations in Colorado and Montana for relief efforts to Puerto Rico . 

Growing up in San Juan, Cruz described her childhood as perfect – full of beaches and playing in the neighborhood with a lot of friends.

In July 2017, Cruz moved to Colorado to attend vet school at CSU, as there was no vet school in Puerto Rico. 

“It was very hard for me to move, because I don’t have anybody here,” Cruz said. “All my family is back in Puerto Rico. I don’t have family in any part of the U.S.” 

Cruz expressed that she fell in love with CSU when searching for vet school programs. Cruz is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Toxicology, part of her vet prep program. 

However, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Cruz began an entirely separate journey, one to try and raise donations for her home.

On September 20 of 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the coast of Puerto Rico. The hurricane caused several deaths, left hundreds missing, left 1 million without drinking water and 3 million without power, according to a CNN article. Cruz’s family and friends are still suffering from the hurricane.

“My family calls me to tell me what’s going on,” Cruz said. “Puerto Rico is so unique, all of us know each other some way, and if you don’t know that person, maybe another person you know knows that person. We’re like a big family, and for me every Puerto Rican is a part of me, so I feel like I have that responsibility, as a Puerto Rican, to help them.” 

Cruz added that watching the destruction of Puerto Rico has been very tough on her, as she has watched areas of her childhood being destroyed. 

Cruz decided to start gathering donations for relief support to mail to Puerto Rico to try and help, because of the hurricane. Cruz is gathering these donations by herself. After putting her email as a contact for hurricane relief, Cruz expected small donations from people just in the state of Colorado.

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Instead, she has gathered 10,000 pounds of donations for hurricane relief from all around the state and, even, other states.  

Cruz receives items such as bottled water, cans of food, hygiene supplies, feminine products, first aid kits, flashlights and more, which she then packages to be sent to Puerto Rico. She does this usually by herself, or with small support from friends, as she does not have a staff team.

“I’ve been doing it basically by myself. I’ve been doing the inventory and packing boxes,” Cruz said. “Sometimes I have friends that help me, but basically it’s just me.”

Cruz expressed that one of the reasons she decided to help gather donations for hurricane relief was because of the feeling of helplessness that she had after the hurricane occurred and because she wasn’t at home with her family. Cruz added that the day of the hurricane she cried because she couldn’t help her family.

“I felt like I needed to do something about it,” Cruz said, adding that after speaking with one of her professors she started to gather donations from the vet program.

Soon after, she reached out to Puerto Rico Rises to try and be of assistance, and became the primary person for donations in Colorado. 

Puerto Rico Rises is a Florida registered non-profit organization that aims to collect food, water and other supplies to be delivered directly to those that are in need of it, according to their website

Cruz stated those who would like to donate to help hurricane relief efforts can email her at puertorrriquenos.fortcollins@gmail.com, or on her Facebook page, Puerto Rico Rises- Fort Collins, Colorado, and she will respond as quickly as she can. Cruz added that it would be helpful to her if those who would like to send donations could box up their donations and count and label what is inside.

Cruz also asked that anyone who knows a way to help get the supplies to Puerto Rico faster to reach out to her, as she has been struggling with that issue.

Even though it has caused a lot of stress in her life, trying to focus on school and gather supplies for hurricane relief, Cruz continues to do both in hopes that Puerto Rico will recover quickly. 

“That’s all I can dream about, but the reality is that there is so much that is damaged right now, that I think it’ll be a slow process, but I’m really positive that Puerto Rico will rise again,” Cruz said. “Puerto Rican spirit is awesome, and I think that the spirit that they have right now is the best hope that we have.” 

Collegian reporter Austin Fleskes can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @austinfleskes07