- The Dolphins linebacker, with family ties to Puerto Rico, is still working to help the island recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria
Last September, Kiko Alonso watched as Puerto Rico, the place where his father grew up, was gutted by Hurricane Maria. The Dolphins linebacker had seen how J.J. Watt had started a wildly successful fundraising campaign for Hurricane Harvey victims in Houston weeks earlier, so he decided to follow Watt’s lead. Alonso started a YouCaring.com page and raised about $165,000, of which he donated $25,000 himself. It wasn’t the $37 million Watt raised, but it was a start.
In January, after the Dolphins’ season ended, Alonso took a trip to Puerto Rico with his older brother Carlos. He joined forces with the Global Empowerment Mission and Yo No Me Quito, a Puerto Rican organization, and handed out bottled water, food, diapers, and solar-powered lights.
The MMQB caught up with Alonso to discuss his relief work, his childhood memories of Puerto Rico, and the response from President Trump.
TIM ROHAN: What was the scene like in Puerto Rico?
KIKO ALONSO: The scene was still pretty bad. We went up in the mountains that were pretty devastated. There’s still a part of the island that’s in bad shape, that has no electricity or water. You’re walking through these areas at night and they’re pitch black. These people haven’t had light since September, and obviously that’s difficult. And so we [brought] these lights that were extremely bright and solar powered. It’s not like we got them out of the situation, but I think we helped. We helped a lot of people.
ROHAN: What’s your family’s connection to Puerto Rico?
ALONSO: My dad was born in Cuba, grew up in Puerto Rico. I’ve been visiting there since I was a little kid, ever since I can remember. That place is like a second home to me and my brothers.
ROHAN: What do you remember about those visits when you were young?
ALONSO: I just remember we would stay with my grandparents. It was always just a good time. Puerto Rico is a beautiful island, beautiful beaches, great food. It’s always a good time when you’re around family.
ROHAN: What was it like then, watching from afar when the storm hit and seeing everything the people there were going through?
ALONSO: It was hard. Obviously it was during the season, so I felt a little [helpless]—there was only so much that I could’ve done. It was just a couple weeks after [Hurricane] Harvey in Houston, and you know, J.J. Watt raised a lot of money there, so we kind of took that idea and decided to do the same thing. Our goal was $150,000 and we got $160,000. I’m still trying to get donations, because this thing in Puerto Rico is not something that’s going to be solved in a week, a month, or even a year. It’s going to take years to rebuild and help them out. Yeah, it was hard. My cousins, aunts, live there, and I couldn’t get in contact with them for a few weeks. We didn’t know if everyone was O.K., if everyone was good.
ROHAN: What was their experience?
ALONSO: I stayed with my cousins when I was down there. One of my cousins lives in Humacao, which is an area that got hit probably the hardest by the hurricane. He told me that they were in their house and they were just so scared, because they thought the house would get destroyed while they were in there. He was talking about how there’s no electricity. You know, it’s hot in Puerto Rico, so you’re just sitting in your house, sweating bullets.
It’s tough for them, but at the same time, a lot of people had it worse, a lot of people living in impoverished areas. I walked through this community that was probably one of the poorest areas in Puerto Rico. It was like icing on the cake: Now a hurricane just comes through and destroys it? It’s like, what can they do?
ROHAN: What did you think about how President Trump handled the relief effort down there? What did you think of the paper towel thing?
ALONSO: I mean, it was a joke. It was sad to see because, no matter who it is, you see the situation they’re in, and that’s what you do? It’s sad. It’s different, seeing on the news what’s going on. When you go there, it’s pretty hard to see because you’re like, Wow, I can’t believe people are living like this.
It was hard for me to leave. I had to come to California and start training. It was hard when I know that people over there are living like this. I’m going to do everything I can over here [to help], and that’s keep trying to raise money. We still have some money left, and we need to decide what to do with it. We want to do something that’s long lasting. Food and water is nice, but we want to do something that goes a long way. Possibly building houses for people who lost their homes. The organization that we did the mission with, they have these drills and they can build wells to give people fresh water, which I thought was a cool idea.
ROHAN: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think a lot of people don’t think President Trump took the relief effort there seriously enough. Is that what you’re saying?
ALONSO: Yeah, without a doubt. It just sounds like he said it’s not his problem. And you know, that’s fine. If he’s not going to do anything, that’s fine. But there are people like [me], a lot more people than me, who are going to do everything they can to help.
ROHAN: The President was such a topic of conversation around the NFL this year, what did you make of all of the anthem protests and him speaking out about them?
ALONSO: One thing that stood out—that all started at the beginning of the season. He was getting all caught up in that, making a big ordeal of that … he was all worried about these protests when all of these people in Puerto Rico were hurting after the hurricane. It was like, why don’t you put some more focus on that, rather than these players who are taking a knee?
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