The Coast News Group
Pacific Ridge junior Spencer Jones, right, and his classmates load supplies bound for Puerto Rico. Eight tons of supplies were collected for those affected by Hurricane Maria. Courtesy photo

Student spearheads Puerto Rico relief drive

CARLSBAD — Puerto Rico has a special place in Spencer Jones’ heart.

The 16-year-old Pacific Ridge High School junior lived on the island for 18 months when his father’s position at Gilead Sciences led the family to the island.

But after the destruction of Hurricane Maria left the island and residents without power, water, food and infrastructure, Jones decided to act. He and the students of Pacific Ridge collected 8 tons of supplies in October — from food and water to blankets and clothes — to send to Puerto Rico via Gilead Sciences. Jones used monetary gifts to buy two generators and Pacific Ridge families also donated construction supplies including a chainsaw.

The pharmaceutical company had conducted its own efforts and Jones’ father, Geoff, said he should get involved. So, he did.

“It was initially started by a Puerto Rican worker at Gilead,” Jones said. “I went to Dr. (Bob) Ogle, head of the school, and said this is a really good opportunity. The school donated at least one third of the tonnage.”

He said his fond memories of the island, where his family still has numerous friends, was inspiration enough to get the project off the ground. Much of the island remains without power or clean water, just another reason Jones put so much effort into the drive.

On Oct. 11, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz asked the international community to send potable water to counter the spread of disease. Leptospirosis is the suspected cause of four deaths in Puerto Rico, which is contracted through contaminated drinking water. There are 10 more suspected cases.

The shipment from Pacific Ridge and Gilead includes 15 pallets of supplies, with four pallets full of potable drinking water and water filters. Other donated items include baby supplies, toiletries and pet supplies.

“I still remember a bunch about Puerto Rico,” Jones said. “It was so fun and everybody was so nice. I had this feeling of these people are like friends and family to you and you really want to help.”

Many employees at Gilead Sciences, meanwhile, have relatives in Puerto Rico and spent hours collecting and taking inventory of the items.

“We are very proud to support the efforts by Spencer and everyone at the Pacific Ridge School who volunteered their time and resources to help with this initiative to assist families in Puerto Rico,” Carmilia Jimenez, senior research scientist of biologics analytical operations at Gilead Sciences, said in a press release. “We hope these supplies provide much needed resources to those in need.”