CRESTVIEW — A number of North Okaloosa County residents have rallied to help one of their own following Hurricane Maria.

The Category 5 storm — which hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20, delivering 175 mph winds and causing catastrophic damage across the Northeastern Caribbean — destroyed the wooden home of Ismael Moreno and Fela Berrios. They are the parents of former Crestview resident Erika Moreno, the former owner of Fred Astaire Dance Studio in Crestview.

THIS HOME ‘WAS THEIR PRIDE’

On Sept. 27, Moreno started a GoFundMe page to share her parents’ story and gain financial support. First, she stated on the page, her parents were unharmed during the storm.

“They took shelter at their cousin's concrete home and they are safe and in good health,” she said.

As for their home, “The roof was completely torn off by the wind, and the hours of torrential rain flooded the entire house,” she stated on the page.

David Colon, owner of Fred Astaire’s Main Street studio, recalled the house before its destruction, and expressed what it meant to the family.

“I vividly remember helping them build their home in the mountains of PR back in the early ’90s,” he said in an email to the News Bulletin. “This small, humble home was their pride and they built it with their own hands, with the help of friends and family.”

REMOTE TOWN, FEW OPPORTUNITIES

The family lost all their belongings in Hurricane Maria, according to the GoFundMe page.

“They currently sleep on a couch and on the floor at their cousin's house along with several others who took shelter there,” Moreno stated. 

Recovery has been difficult because her father cannot work and make money. Her family lives in Corozal, a remote town largely cut off from aid, where residents currently have to walk about 7 miles just to get gas, NBC Nightly News noted in its Sept. 28 broadcast.

Under such circumstances, any donation goes a long way, Moreno stated.

“… I ask you for a small donation, so my family can recuperate from this disaster and have a place to live,” she said on the GoFundMe page. “The money will be sent to them so they can have supplies and start reconstructing.”

Moreno did not expect what happened after the GoFundMe page went live, Colon said.

ANYTHING CAN HELP

Moreno set a $2,000 goal — and, “within one day people had donated over $1,300, most of them current and former Crestview citizens that care about her and even some that she has never met,” Colon said.

Colon said the outcome did not surprise him.

“I’ve lived in Crestview for over 12 years and have seen what our community can do to help those in need...,” he said.

Still, the $1,605 collected, as of this writing, is not enough. 

“… It is unlike me to ask for anything from anyone,” said Colon, an active member of the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce whose studio, over the years, has aided numerous charitable efforts, many with Moreno’s involvement. “These people are dear to my heart and I can't stand by without asking you to help them. You rarely find someone more willing to put someone else ahead of their own needs than Ismael Moreno and Fela Berrios. This time they are the ones in need and I ask you to help them with a small donation.”

Anything can help — even if that just means sharing this story on social media, Colon said. 

“Puerto Rico is in a huge crisis,” he said. “Things are much worse than you could imagine.

“You can't help everyone at the same time, but if you have thought to yourself what could you do to help, then this is a good opportunity to start with.”

HOW TO HELP

See https://www.gofundme.com/cessm-help-the-moreno-family to assist former Crestview resident Erika Moreno’s family with Hurricane Maria aid. The page includes photos of the family and the home’s damage.