The hurricane that recently hit Puerto Rico left an entire island, a whole country, without electricity, water and shelter. Despite the aid that is being funneled to the island, many Puerto Rican families remain in dire situations, with ties all the way here in Rolla.

Marangelly Harris is the principal of Truman Elementary, and moved here from Puerto Rico with her family when she was a young girl.

“I was born in Puerto Rico—my mom and dad moved to New York in 1978 and my whole family stayed on the island,” Harris explained. “All of my family are still living in Puerto Rico.”

When the hurricane first struck, Harris said it took a week to hear from her family, as the island was left without resources. It wasn’t until the 6th and 7th days after the hurricane that she was able to get in touch with them.

On my father’s side of the family, some of them lost everything. I haven’t talked to them, but know they’re fine, they’re alive,” Harris said. “They are all in shelters, which on the island is the best place to be because you are getting water and food. There are so many places on the island where they haven’t received any water or any food.”

Harris’ mother was able to speak with her sister, Harris’ aunt, on the island, who was able to tell them about her side of the family.

“Her roof flew away in the middle of the hurricane,” Harris said. “She was holding onto things and said the wind was strong…her whole body is bruised. They lost their cars, they lost obviously everything inside the house.”

Harris’ aunt told her mother she has two cases of water left, and as of yet has not received any aid.

“She has no idea what to do,” Harris said.

Harris has spoken to friends with family still on the island, and received a call from one who had just spoken with her father. He told her believed he was going to die.

“Those are things you hear from your own people, your loved ones,” said Harris.

Despite having the events in Puerto Rico on her mind, Harris continued to come in and work with her staff and students each day.

“It was very difficult,” she said. “I told my staff my mind is over there, but you have to keep doing your job. This is what I’m here to do.”

Harris was later approached by a school counselor who proposed the idea of raising money to help victims in Puerto Rico.

“It was something that I wanted to do, but being that I’m Puerto Rican, I didn’t want people to think I was just doing it because it’s my family,” she said. “We started thinking about bake sales, and we started thinking about selling food or a car wash. Then I had an idea that we could start penny wars.”

Students at Truman Elementary can drop pennies and other coins in plastic jars in the main office, raising points for their class or lowering the points of a different class, turning it into a competition.

“We just started, I introduced it to the students on Wednesday,” Harris said. “They’re so excited.”

Harris said they explained why they began fundraising during an assembly, and introduced students to the issues in Puerto Rico.

“We explained there are people in need of water…there’s people in need of food and there’s no communication in the island,” she said. “One of the teachers explained that’s where I’m from and the kids were like, ‘how can we help?’.”

Even though the penny wars have only been going on for a few days, Harris said the kids have been coming in throughout the day, throwing in pennies, coins and whole dollars in order to help. While there are incentives for the kids to donate, such as a movie day for the winning class, Harris said she can see the kids learning and understand what’s happening, and what they’re small donations really mean.

“It is amazing, the fact they get to know that a penny can make a different in someone’s life,” she said. “We see pennies everywhere, we kick them, we throw them out, we keep them in drawers. Now the kids are picking up those pennies and saying . . . ’someone is really in need of a bottle of water—these pennies can help.’”

Harris and the students and staff of Truman Elementary will be fundraising throughout October. The money will be given to the Ricky Martin Foundation, and will be used as needed on the island.

“There are 78 towns in Puerto Rico,” Harris said. “I wanted someone who was going to say the whole island needs help, so wherever it’s most needed is where we’ll send it.”

The community is welcome to donate as well, and can visit the main office to be a part of what they’re doing for the people of Puerto Rico.