Hundreds of hurricane evacuees seek support in Berks

'Compassion is in the fabric of our state'

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Hundreds of people now living in Berks County after being forced to flee hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are benefiting from a state government-led initiative.

The Wolf administration announced Wednesday the results of a series of "One-Stop-Shop: Traveling Resource and Information Fairs" it held across the state, including one in Reading, over the past six weeks.

Seventeen state agencies teamed up with local and county governments and more than 100 community organizations to provide information about resources available to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria evacuees.

"It is heartening to witness the great partnership between government staff at the local, county, state, and federal level to help individuals and families recover from such terrible devastation," said Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres. "It is a great model of government that works."

The fairs were held in cities with the highest concentration of hurricane evacuees. More than 200 families have settled in Reading and its surrounding suburbs since making the 1,600-mile move from Puerto Rico, according to Michael Toledo, the president and CEO of Centro Hispano, where Reading's fair was held on January 31.

The evacuees' needs are evident, officials said, by Reading having the largest turnout among the eight fairs held across the state, with nearly 400 people in attendance.

"It is wonderful to see so many individuals and organizations come together to provide much-needed resources and support to those displaced by the devastating effects of last year's hurricanes," First Lady Frances Wolf said. "Compassion is in the fabric of our state, and assisting our fellow Americans is a Pennsylvania tradition."

Agencies and organizations provided information about a range of topics to help the evacuees integrate with the community, including employment opportunities, immunizations, voter registration, health screenings, housing, and education.

"Making the move from Puerto Rico to the mainland was not a decision these families took lightly, and we need to be ready to assist them in any way possible as they make their new home in our communities," said Richard D. Flinn Jr, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. "This is a significant influx of new people to Pennsylvania, and we, along with our local, state, and federal partners, will continue to make the transition as seamless as possible for them."

Officials said Wednesday that help for the evacuees won't stop with the fairs.

"We will continue providing our support to those there and to those arriving in our state," said Gov. Tom Wolf.

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