Times Past

SLO’s connection to Puerto Rico shines through with the giving spirit

SLO Wellness Center’s Christmas tree from last winter..
SLO Wellness Center’s Christmas tree from last winter..

Two “Christmas” trees shouted love, one at SLO Wellness, one created out of dirty clothes and battery propelled LED lights propped up against a washing machine. They connect our county with the people of Puerto Rico.

Grisel Puig-Snider was born in Dorado, a small village in Puerto Rico.

“Neighbors were like family,” she said. “You never needed an invitation. If you slaughtered a pig, everyone feasted on its meat. My father and several neighbors grew their own coffee for everyone to share. It was a microcosm of a nearly perfect world of sharing.”

Puig-Snider married a man from Paso Robles and eventually moved to Los Osos.

She came to understand the disruption caused by Hurricane Maria last fall through her “dear childhood friend, Elysse Sanchez.”

Sanchez e-mailed an image that says so much about both the destruction and the spirit of the people.

“After three months of no electricity and no running water, losing personal belongings, eating cold Chef Boyardee and bread with her 12-year- old daughter, Kamille, each night, Elysse, though her spirit and soul felt crushed, decided to give her daughter the Christmas experience any child deserves,” Puig-Snider said. “She took all her dirty laundry - that couldn’t be washed – and fashioned it into a Christmas tree. She decorated with some LED lights with batteries that someone had sent her and made from what most of us might see as gross or dirty a Beautiful Christmas tree to celebrate, feel hope and joy, and not lose the spirit of what Christmas represents.

“Even in the hardest times, this single parent endures, showing her daughter that you can make the best out of what has been given to you.”

There is a wondrous San Luis Obispo twist to Puig-Snider’s narrative: “A week before Hurricane Maria hit my home island, where 95 percent of my family still lives, I started work at SLO Wellness Center, an amazing place where five chiropractors help people of all ages. For more than two weeks, I was living two incongruent realities at once. I couldn’t comprehend the suffering our family on the island was going through. Every day my coworkers were there for me. They prayed for me and Puerto Rico. They gave me hope when I was felling hopeless and helpless.

“In December, we had our staff holiday party. Dr. Sachs thanked everyone for their good work. Then he said that every year SLO Wellness chooses a community organization to donate to. But in 2017, Drs. Rex and Molly Stevens, Casparian, Kolofer and Sachs decided to help two of their current employees with their causes.

“They gave an envelope to Jackie to help kids in Africa and one to me to help my family and friends in Puerto Rico. Tears of gratitude welled up in my eyes.

“I contacted my childhood friend, Claritza Castro, professor at University of Puerto Rico and well known for helping the homeless and women and children in need. We planned how to distribute the money.

“The money went to my elementary teacher, Racquel Pagani, who saved my life when I was in the hardest time of my youth but had now lost everything, my elementary school, Higuillar, that had been wiped out, and a church from my town that was helping people who lost everything.”

And here’s how you can help: Enjoy a thrilling musical experience by purchasing tickets for musical polymath Craig Russell’s “San Luis Obispo Responds,” a concert to benefit victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the Thomas Fire and Monteceito mudslide. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center.

All ticket ($25) revenue will be donated to United Way, Direct Relief and the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Donations at www.pacslo.org/online/article/sloresponds may be designated to go to Puerto Rican and/or Thomas Fire relief.

Tickets are at www.pacslo.org, the Cal Poly Ticket Office or at 805-756-4849.

This column is by Liz and Dan Krieger. Liz is a retired children’s librarian, and Dan is Professor of History, Emeritus at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. He is past President of the California Mission Studies Association, now part of the California Missions Foundation. He can be reached at slohistory@gmail.com.