One year later: Puerto Rican students adjust to life in Buffalo

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At the back of Kim Meissner’s classroom is a bin of hats and gloves. Another drawer has socks and basic necessities. Behind that are boxes of boots.

Meissner first starting collecting winter clothing items and more in late 2017 when she noticed an influx of students from Puerto Rico.

“They came with only a suitcase full of clothes, and they were summer clothes, and they started arriving in October, November, December through the winter,” Meissner said. “So their greatest immediate need was some warm winter clothes.”

Meissner is a 7th and 8th grade teacher at Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy, where many students enrolled after arriving from Puerto Rico in late 2017 and early 2018.

Alejandra Gutierrez, a 7th grader, was one of those kids. She moved here in October 2017 with her mother. When asked if she loves or hates Buffalo snow, Guttierez laughed and said it depends.

“I had jackets, but I didn’t have coats or nothing, so I had to get them,” Gutierrez said.

Buffalo took getting used to for Alejandra and her mom, who were among the earliest arrivals to Buffalo after Hurricane Maria destroyed homes and left the island without power. At first, the move was temporary, but then her mom decided they had better opportunities in Buffalo than they did back home.

“I knew a little bit of English and I knew how to speak, but to pronounce some words, I couldn’t do it, so I learned a lot,” Gutierrez said.

Meissner, wanting to help her newest students at the Herman Badillo bilingual academy, reached out for donations on Facebook. What followed was an outpouring of support from the community that was so large, the donations coming in could no longer fit in her classroom. Coats, clothes, and toys filled the school’s auditorium, and Buffalo Public Schools invited new families to come take what they needed.

“We gave away over 200 coats, 100 pairs of boots. Countless gloves and hats, and scarves, and things like that,” Meissner said.

The influx of students has slowed down, and Meissner says some families have even gone home.

“The ones that have been here for the past year, their needs have been met,” she said.

But the trickle continues. She says many new families arrived in September to start the school year, and Meissner and her colleagues remain ready to help.

“A lot of our staff members that are here, that are bilingual, have been at this school for decades. So we really hold the school near and dear to our heart, and that’s why we embrace the children. Any child that comes, but especially the ones that come from Puerto Rico,” Meissner said.

Right now, those who came to Buffalo after the hurricane are in the middle of their second winter in the United States, and aside from aclimating to cold weather, Meissner said many families are in a good place. She said the parents of students who are staying have jobs, and their children are learning English. If families encounter hardships, Meissner is there to point them in the right direction or pair a family up with people from the community who donated to her collection.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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