Fishing cooperatives buy members’ catches at guaranteed prices and then sell them to the public. The punishing effects of the hurricane led to discussions about how the groups could have dependable power that did not rely on the electric grid.
One proposed solution was solar panels, which would combine renewable energy with resiliency planning, said Raimundo Espinoza, the executive director of Conservación ConCiencia, a nonprofit that blends environmental protection with economic development.
Solar panels were installed starting in 2018 in the eastern town of Naguabo to support a fishing cooperative and have since been installed in four other coastal fishing villages. A total of $200,000 for hurricane recovery and solarization projects has been granted to Conservación ConCiencia through Hispanic Federation, a beneficiary agency of The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.
In January 2020, another natural disaster struck Puerto Rico: a major earthquake, which was followed by significant tremors that persisted for months and again wreaked havoc on the electrical system and plunged communities into darkness.
About two months after the first major earthquake, solar panels were installed at Mr. Chacón Soto’s fishing cooperative in Guánica. Some time later, Mr. Espinoza was visiting to check how the solar panels were working when another earthquake struck. The panels were undamaged, and the cooperative’s freezers did not lose power.
“I remember that day,” Mr. Espinoza said. “Great, this is the proof of concept. It works.”
As other communities lost power, residents came to Mr. Chacón Soto’s fishing cooperative to store medications that needed to be kept cold. “It kind of became an impromptu community center,” Mr. Espinoza said. “This is one of those things bottom line-wise. It’s a good investment.”
The cooperative that Mr. Chacón Soto leads has about 25 members. Mr. Chacón Soto, 58, who has been fishing since he was 13, regularly catches red and queen snapper, kingfish and codfish. Having the solar panels was a great relief, Mr. Chacón Soto said.
“With the panels, we didn’t have the concern of the fish being lost,” he said through an interpreter. “With the system we have now, electricity runs at 100 percent. The panels have been a blessing for us.”
Supporting people recovering from disasters is also part of the work of Feeding America, another beneficiary organization of The Neediest Cases Fund.
A little over a year ago, Claude Baird was on the phone around 10:30 p.m. with his son-in-law, who was warning about a coming tornado, when the line went dead.
On the other side of the house in western Kentucky, Mr. Baird’s wife, Donna, and their 5-year-old granddaughter, Lilly, had just gone to bed when the walls started to shake violently.
“If I had not gotten off the bed, we would have gone flying with that mattress,” Mrs. Baird said, adding that it was later found 200 yards away in the woods. “I grabbed her and it was like God’s hand pushing us straight down to the floor.”
The tornado tore off the roof of their home, knocked down walls and left Mr. Baird bleeding badly from a three-inch gash on his left knee from broken glass.
The tornado that struck Dawson Springs, which is about 160 miles southwest of Louisville, on Dec. 10, 2021, was part of an outbreak of tornadoes that tore through the Midwest and the South, causing dozens of deaths.
In the daylight, Mr. Baird, 66, said he could not recognize the community where he had grown up.
“The pictures did no justice for the way it looked,” he said, adding, “It was wild around here.” The home they had lived in for 25 years was demolished. Even a bed headboard that Mr. Baird had made of oak and redwood and that was fastened to a wall was never found.
After the tornado, the Bairds lived with their son for a few months, and then in a tiny prefabricated house installed on their property. With the help of insurance and donations, the Bairds rebuilt on the site of their former home and moved into the new house in early October.
Even before the tornado, the Bairds had turned to a food pantry at Christ Tabernacle Church, about 15 miles west of Dawson Springs, but “when the tornado hit, well, we really depended on them,” said Mrs. Baird, 64. The pantry provides staples like pasta, spaghetti sauce, meat, beans and canned vegetables.
The church is a partner of Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland, which is based south of Louisville and received a special grant from The Neediest Cases Fund for tornado relief.
In the year since the tornadoes, which affected multiple Kentucky counties, Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland has provided enough food for more than five million meals to its partner agencies, said the group’s executive director, Jamie Sizemore.
“They kept us in food,” Mrs. Baird said. “That is something we didn’t have to worry about.”
Mr. Baird, who is retired from a career in mining, said the pantry and Feeding America, Kentucky’s Heartland were a big help. Merely saying thank you “is not good enough for what they did for us,” he said.