Roadies for Relief: Production Industry Professionals Volunteer in Puerto Rico
By Shelby Cude, Digital Creative Director for the Event Safety Alliance
There is something to be said for the power of music and how it brings people together. Festival sites and touring productions are temporary cities built by the hands of hundreds of workers, from volunteers to vendors, all battling logistics and potentially challenging worksites but coming together to build something that will hopefully leave a positive, lasting impression on fans and attendees.
When a natural disaster strikes, similar rules apply in regards to aiding relief efforts. However, the stakes become multiplied. Reliable logistics and methods of transportation as well having ready access to methods of communication, shelter, and resources are factors of which lives now depend on.
On September 20, 2017, the Category 4, Hurricane Maria, struck Puerto Rico, among many other islands off the coast of Florida, killing at least 60 people. According to several news sources, it was the strongest storm to hit a US territory in 89 years.
In response, several production industry professionals have stepped up and made the journey to provide aid and assistance in relief efforts in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the surrounding areas. Among those are Joey Gallagher from Gallagher Staging and Joe Bartley from ACES Cargo on behalf of non-profit organization JUSTABUNCHOFROADIES.ORG.
“I had heard that Just a Bunch of Roadies (JABOR) was looking into opportunities to help the people of Puerto Rico. I spoke to Lori Tierany and Charlie Hernandez Sr. and volunteered to do an advance trip to see firsthand where we could help the most,” said Joey Gallagher. Originally Gallagher planned on making the trip solo but after talking to a few others who had already made the journey and hearing about how rough the conditions were, decided to call up long time friend and production industry colleague, Joe Bartley, to join him.
“When [Joey] told me the dates he was thinking about going, which was the week of Christmas, I told him I didn’t think I could make it since my family was planning on visiting. After he told me more about his plans and how he was going to do it alone, I decided it would be a really amazing experience so I asked my family to change their plans,” said Bartley.
Together they flew to Miami, FL first where they stopped at a Walmart to load up four suitcases full of supplies. “We had no idea what the conditions were going to be like when we arrived in San Juan, but to our surprise they had fully stocked Walmarts and grocery stores up and running off generators,” explained Gallagher. “You should have seen us in the baby aisle trying to figure out what the numbers on the diaper packs meant!”
Upon arrival, Gallagher and Bartley unsuccessfully sought out FEMA, eventually redirecting their focus to the Red Cross. “It took us a while and a lot of asking around but we finally found their headquarters. After talking to the woman at the front desk and informing her on what we were trying to do, she was excited for us to help and suggested that we join one of their missions to see how they do things. We signed up to ride up into the mountains to hand out food and water to people in need,” said Bartley.
In the morning Gallagher and Bartley met another 30 volunteers at the Red Cross meeting spot, where they were split into groups and drove an hour into the mountains to the next meeting spot where locals were expecting them. “San Juan still didn’t have power in a lot of areas and without traffic lights, it made driving quite interesting. Once we got out of San Juan it became an entirely different story; there was destruction everywhere. People were without power but more importantly, they didn’t have clean drinking water. Communities were running PVC piping to running streams to create a makeshift outdoor shower so they could clean themselves. Some areas were a lot better than others but for some, they lost everything including family members,” said Gallagher.
Their first day was a success as they were able to help about 100 families in need. But that was just the beginning. “Joey came up with the idea that we should go talk to the people in charge and figure out where they are lacking the most to see if we could fill that void. They told us about six different areas that they were not able to help but that had a lot of people in need,” said Bartley. “That was when we decided we would do our own missions by ourselves and focus on those areas.”
After renting two cargo vans, Gallagher and Bartley loaded them full of supplies from Costco and Walmart and spent the rest of their time in Puerto Rico visiting those more difficult-to-reach areas. Along the way they made friends with Yvonne Schiffer who was there on her own handing out water filters to locals.
When asked how they each managed to take the time off and work remotely in order to make this volunteer opportunity happen, they both responded with much thanks to their teams back in the states. “Internet was non-existent in most areas so I had to rely on a sat [satellite] phone or use cellular when available. My team was aware of what I was doing and were 100% behind me so they held down the fort while I was away,” said Gallagher. “I was lucky that the CEO of ACES, Keith Mitchell, has a huge heart to help people in need so he was really excited to have me go on this trip. I worked as much as I could remotely but we did not have any internet service most of the time so I relied on my team to help cover my work while I was away,” said Bartley.
Before Bartley decided to make the trip himself, A.C.E.S. Cargo had decided instead of giving gifts out to our customers and vendors for Christmas, that they would make charitable donations in their name.
Among the many memorable, eye-opening experiences, Bartley recounted one that really hit home:
“It was just about our second-to-last day when I posted a picture on my Instagram story. Shortly after I received a direct message from an old college friend that I haven’t spoken to in years. She wrote to me to thank me for what we were doing and tell me how most of her family is there in Puerto Rico. I knew we still had some supplies left and we would be driving all the way across the island the next day. So I screenshot our route and asked her if she knew of anyone in need of anything that was near where we would be traveling. She told me about her family who were still without water or power, along with a young baby. It just so happened that they were en route to the airport for us so we decided we would make that our last stop and give them the rest of what we had.”
“They were so excited to have us come and were incredibly thankful. We spent some time talking with them while delivering the supplies to their house and came to find out that one of the ladies had recently lost her leg and had just had a prosthetic in its place. She insisted that she had to stand up through her pain so she can hug us and take a picture with us. It was really eye-opening to see how just a small thing that we take for granted like a few water bottles, some food, and some solar lights can really affect people,” said Bartley.
Having taken on the responsibility of running the family business, Gallagher admitted that he’s always wanted to build the company in a way that would allow him to help people in need. “It gets to be a little tricky juggling time and efforts spent on the business and what’s spent on passion projects, like helping JABOR and others. I know if I stay focused, I’ll be able to do much more in the near future.”
Inspired to develop some more long term solutions not just for Puerto Rico but for future disasters, Gallagher aims to continue working with JABOR to create a rapid deployment system that can provide fresh drinking water to communities along with portable crash-kits containing other supplies.
JABOR is always working on multiple humanitarian efforts and donations are always needed to move forward on large scale projects. “Being self motivated to see an opportunity and get involved is an amazing way to start. You won’t have to look hard to find someone in need of help,” said Gallagher.
“After this experience, I have a newfound respect for the Red Cross. Donating to them is an easy way to help and I saw first hand that the donations really do go to a great cause as they were doing so much good in Puerto Rico,” said Bartley.
Additionally Gallagher is developing a website that will make it easier to find local volunteer opportunities.
To learn more about how you can get involved, visit JUSTABUNCHOFROADIES.ORG.