Published in the November 22, 2017 edition.


WAKEFIELD — It only takes one person to start a movement, and Wakefield resident Elizabeth “Liz” Stumpf started one not long after


Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria, a monster storm that left behind destruction, hunger and darkness.

Stumpf, a hygienist for a dental practice in North Reading, was born on Long Island, N.Y. but moved to Puerto Rico when she was two years old.

When she moved to Wakefield 22 years ago to start a family with her husband Mark, she left behind her entire family in Puerto Rico, including her mother. While Maria raged on, Stumpf worried about the wellbeing of her loved ones, but power was out and there was no way to communicate.

“With all of my family on the island, I was a mess watching the news,” she said. “I had been through many hurricanes while living there but had never seen a hurricane like this.”

Stumpf knew she had to do something to help, and an idea began to take root, but she had to bide her time.

For six days, Stumpf said she didn’t hear from her family and had no idea whether they were all right, not to mention still alive. She eventually heard from her niece, who had traveled for three hours to get to a side of the island where there was signal.

Her niece let Stumpf know that they were all alive, but there was no food, no power and no Internet unless they could get to the part of the island where there was signal.

The stores were empty, and even if there was money to spend, there was nothing to buy. Corozal, the town where Stumpf’s mother lived, was one of the hardest hit areas and was completely destroyed.

“My niece assured me that everybody would be fine and that she would try her best to keep in touch with me,” Stumpf said. “When we spoke again, she sent me a video of the empty shelves at supermarkets. She found some goods at Walmart, but the options were extremely limited.”

Because of the lack of supplies, many people Stumpf knew were going hungry. Families were desperate for any food they could find. That’s when the idea that had taken root in the back of her mind began to sprout.

“The more news I watched, the more helpless I felt,” she said. “There were supplies in cargo sitting at the port with no one to unload them. Out of desperation, I put together a box of food and went to our local Post Office to see if it could be shipped.”

With no guarantee that the box would arrive in three days, Stumpf shipped the first box. She made a video showing the items she was sending and posted it on her Facebook page. She then asked her friends to join her in shipping boxes containing food to the church Corozal where she had attended services.

“My mom and aunt often volunteered at the church, so I knew they had a food pantry that served the entire community,” said Stumpf. “As a result, the One Box Movement came to full blossom.”

The following day, she posted a second video. This time, another woman shared a page called “Puerto Rico Strong.” Within minutes, someone created a logo and spread information about Stumpf’s movement.

“People started to send boxes and would message me asking for help for their loved ones on the island,” said Stumpf. Through social media, she connected with two women in Texas who promoted the One Box Movement on other Facebook pages. Together, they organized and started to connect sponsors with families who were asking for help.

“We formed a private group on Facebook to communicate more easily,” Stumpf said. Currently, there are 400 members, and approximately 245 families have been helped. Stumpf estimates that over 600 boxes of food have been sent to Puerto Rico through her One Box Movement.

“I was ecstatic to see other groups inspired by the movement we formed,” she said, adding that it all happened because “the great community of Wakefield had my back and responded.”

“I was amazed at how many strangers contacted me to help,” she said. “I had instructed people to put messages of hope and love inside the boxes, and some citizens of Puerto Rico got the most beautiful, kind notes from many people here. The grade 6 students at Galvin Middle School, organized by Mrs. Doucette, also helped to make and ship 43 boxes to the church.”

Slowly, the situation is improving with regard to supplies in Puerto Rico. Corozal, however, remains without both power and water.

“Generators are being used in some of the vital places, including the hospitals and government offices, but Puerto Rico’s status is a very sad reality,” said Stumpf. “Many communities have lost everything.”

The One Box Movement is now in its second phase. Stumpf knows that food and fuel come first, and many parents will not be able to afford Christmas presents for their children.

“I was one of those kids a long time ago when my parents were struggling financially,” said Stumpf. “The church helped us with both food and moral support. So, I have rallied my troops again and contacted Padre Ivan (at the church) to offer to help with giving presents to the community. My Texas friends also know about 52 children who would enjoy receiving gifts for Christmas.”

Anyone interested in helping can shop for toys on Amazon and have them sent directly to the church. To sponsor a child, contact Stumpf through Facebook (Elizabeth Rivera Stumpf). The address for the church is Parroquia Nuestra Senora de los Siete Dolores, HC05, Box 10955, Corozal, Puerto Rico 00783.

“Please help us give these children a Christmas miracle,” said Stumpf. “I’m so happy to have grown up in Puerto Rico. Residents there always see the positive side of life, and everyone in the community looks out for one another. I’d like for them to know they have not been forgotten.”