As Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico two weeks ago, many Duke students from the island felt helpless as they awaited news about their family and friends’ safety. Afterward, as the extent of the destruction became horrifically evident, these undergraduates joined forces with a nationwide movement of college students raising money to aid Puerto Rico. 

The GoFundMe page “Students with Puerto Rico” was created by students at the University of Pennsylvania and quickly spread to other universities. As of Wednesday evening, the campaign had raised $167,203, surpassing its $150,000 goal. 

“This initiative began with college students across the U.S. who anxiously witnessed the wrath of Maria from the outside and felt helpless,” reads a statement on the page. “We realized that through our networks at the different universities we attend, we can have a great impact on the recovery efforts.”

Junior David Latoni serves as the campaign's point person at Duke and has worked to share the page through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. He noted that the GoFundMe has been “a great success story.”

After the fund reached its initial goal of $15,000 in 24 hours, the organizers upped it to $50,000. A surprise donation of $20,000 from talk show host Jimmy Fallon helped them reach that milestone. Latoni said he does not know how Fallon found out about the fund, but that Fallon wrote them a note, saying he loved the students’ effort and to keep up the good work. 

Since then, the fund has continued to grow, increasing its goal as more funds roll in. The Duke community has been very helpful, donating about $2,000 to the fund so far, Latoni noted.

All of the money raised through the GoFundMe page will go to Unidos por Puerto Rico, which is an initiative started by Beatriz Roselló—first lady of Puerto Rico—to help the victims of the storm.

“This money is definitely going to the hands it should be going, they are trustworthy people,” Latoni said. 

Rosie Eidelman—a junior who grew up in Puerto Rico—explained that the funding will be distributed where people need it, especially to help them rebuild their homes. 

“There are places without power and food, and they’re not going to have power for a very long time,” she said. “A lot of things need to be rebuilt.”

Eidelman added that she helped get the word out about the campaign by sharing a photo advertising the fund. She also joined a Facebook group of with more than 790 college students from Puerto Rico who are working to promote the campaign on their campuses. 

Senior Ricardo Alvarez-Estarellas—who is from Puerto Rico and has also helped drum up support for the fund—shared that the Duke students from the island have come together in wake of Hurricane Maria. 

“We’ve definitely grown closer and keep in touch to make sure our families are alright,” he said.

When the storm first struck, Alvarez-Estarellas could not contact his family for three days to learn if they had survived. He said he tried to stay optimistic but became more worried as time went by. 

Eventually, he received a call from his mom that his family was safe. However, they still do not have power and running water only works sporadically. 

Alvarez-Estarellas expressed that he has been baffled by President Donald Trump’s response to the crisis and his Twitter criticisms of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for her leadership ability. 

“If [Trump] could get any lower than he already was, he definitely did so this weekend when he went on a Tweet rampage against Puerto Rico,” he said. 

He added that Trump’s references to the island’s debt were also distasteful and that Puerto Rico’s financial troubles should not disqualify it from receiving the same level of federal aid that Texas and Florida did in the wake of recent hurricanes. 

However, Latoni said that Trump's actions have not been all bad, rating his response a seven out of 10, but noted that Trump has been insensitive through his statements. He criticized Trump’s recent comment during a visit to Puerto Rico that the island had “thrown our budget a little out of whack.”

“I’m sure these factors do that, but I don't think it’s the place to say that,” Latoni said. “People have lost their homes, it doesn't matter.”

Eidelman said that instead of bashing Trump, people should focus on tangible steps to help those who are suffering in Puerto Rico. She added that she has been impressed by the support from the Duke community. 

The GoFundMe has demonstrated the depth of feelings Puerto Rican students in the continental U.S. have for their home, Alvarez-Estarellas noted.

“The fundraising has shown that people who leave the island still care about it,” he said.