As we continue on our Puerto Rico Hero Series, I am thrilled to feature: Brenda Marie Irizarry.
Meet Brenda Marie Irizarry, Creator/Owner at Tampa Glam Squad, National Sales and Marketing Director at Stay Connected – Cellphone Chargers and National Sales and Marketing Director at Homeland Intelligence Technologies. All around HERO for Puerto Rico! I had the pleasure of meeting Brenda many years ago – unfortunately, throughout the years we lost touch, however I can honestly say that she is a blessing to our community – both here in Tampa,as well as in Puerto Rico. It takes courage, heart and foresight to be a leader…. Brenda has all of these things -and more, she made the Tampa operation possible, by opening the doors to her warehouse and by building the team needed… Thank you Brenda for leading the charge!
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: What is your background, and where were you raised?
Brenda Irizarry: I was born and raised in Mayaguez, PR, by my parents Edwin Irizarry, Isabel Cancel. I have 3 sisters and 7 nephews and nieces. To make a long story short, I moved to Tampa when i was 27, taught myself English and started working as a nail tech. I worked at the same spa for over 7 years. Now I’m a retired esthetician, working as the National Sales and Marketing Director of Homeland Intelligence Technologies and the mom of our puppies. Also, a volunteer for COAPR and I am the founder of M.O.M.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Take us back to the days leading up to September 20th, 2017; as Hurricane Maria made its way toward the Island of Puerto Rico. – how did you feel, and what went through your mind during those hours when the storm was ravaging the island?
Brenda Irizarry: To be honest I never thought the island would get hit as bad as it did. I went to bed the night before after talking to a few friends (Marrian, Christine etc) about collecting goods to “mail” to our families if they needed it. I made a group on FB called “Donations for PR” and started adding friends. The next day when I saw what happened, and was not able to communicate with my family, I told my boyfriend Richard Trela that I was going to take my leftover supplies from Hurricane Irma to our office/warehouse on Gandy, and the mission started. I sent a few messages to local news stations and the word got out pretty quickly. People started bringing supplies to our office and the rest is history, as they say. Our dear friend Evelio Otero was one of the first one to respond and offer to use his organization COA to collect the goods and help with the shipping. Little did he know, it would get as big as it did.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Tell us about September 22nd, 2017 for you…. Were you able to reach your family?
Brenda Irizarry: My parents were here visiting, they got here before Irma hit PR and FL. They’re flight got cancelled because of Irma. (they were another big reason why i started doing something about it too) We didn’t hear from my family until after a week the storm. My nephew Odrik called me from a land line and i lost it, cried what i couldn’t cry before because my focus was on doing something. Thanking the Lord as I heard my nephew and found out that everyone was ok. There was no power, no water, no internet service, but everyone was alive and they were together helping each other. That gave me more strength to keep moving forward.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Tell us about the Tampa team, the people and organizations behind the efforts;
I know it was a big team of people that jumped in immediately to help; who would you say played a major part in the relief efforts.
Brenda Irizarry: Tampa Team – COAPR was born when Maria hit PR. Evelio didn’t even blink and offered his organization to help ship all the goods, emergency supplies, generators, etc. I feel that we were all put there for the same purpose, to help our Island. There was count-less sleep deprive nights, so many tears, old friends, new friends, meetings, boxes, trucks, containers, volunteers (500 the first Saturday we started collecting)..many stories of volunteers hearing from their families for the first time while helping us pack supplies to be shipped over…that made it all worth it.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: What obstacles did you encounter, and how were you able to overcome them?
Brenda Irizarry: We were all learning throughout the process. None of us was ever in charge of an Emergency Relief effort that was this big. We never thought it would get this big. We just pushed thru and we made it happen because we had to make it happen. I am eternally grateful for all the angels that made it happen. Evelio, Rich, Luis, Jose, Marrian, Bill, Antonio, Edwin, Lisa, Arlene, Kelvin, Linda, Edwin I., Isabel, Walter, Andy, … and so many more angels and I will forever be grateful to each of them.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: Have you visited Puerto Rico since the Hurricane?
Brenda Irizarry: I haven’t visited, I didn’t want to be burden to them, you know another mouth to feed., etc, I thought and still think that i could do more from here…. I am going, I have to go, I am not sure when…. I still have so much to do here.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: What message do you want to send to those people that still want to continue to help Puerto Rico – what can they do?
Brenda Irizarry: The message is THANK YOU, and please keep the prayers coming. There’s so much to do still…..
Lots of families have moved to Florida, leaving behind all they had, whatever was left from their homes, they’re families etc. We are helping them through Missions of Miracles. ORG, I created this organization to continue helping, with first aid supplies, food, clothes, anything and everything you can think of that you need when you move (or flee) to a new country with nothing, or very little in your hands.
Jolie Gonzalez-Padilla: What’s next for Puerto Rico?
Brenda Irizarry: What is next for Puerto Rico in my opinion, will be a complete “makeover’. To take this opportunity to rebuild stronger and better for the entire Island. I know is easier said than done but is not impossible