Elliot Matos isn’t too proud to have forgotten the days, long ago, when relief workers handed him and his family a box of supplies to make life more bearable in their remote slice of Puerto Rico.

And next week, Matos will finally know what it feels like to be on the other end of those boxes.

Matos, the service manager at Hoffman Audi in East Hartford, is leading an expedition to the island of his birth on Nov. 4, when he and four of his colleagues will personally deliver donated supplies to victims of Hurricane Maria.

“I started feeling helpless, and I kept hearing horror stories about people who can’t communicate with their families,” Matos said Monday. “Twelve percent of my workforce here has some connection to the island. I know what it feels like, that helplessness, when your family needs you. So I offered to collect the items and make sure they get where they need to go.”


Elliot Matos, a native Puerto Rican, is excited by the response from fellow Hoffman Audi employees when he asked if they would like to donate supplies to loved ones living on the hurricane-ravaged island. (John Woike / Hartford Courant)

Over the course of the past few weeks, Hoffman employees sent Matos pallets of supplies for their friends and families. Bottled water and canned food, obviously, but also medical supplies, gas generators and solar lights. They sit in the dealership, each box bearing handwritten names and addresses of their recipients.

The Hoffman family donated the expenses for two shipping containers that will begin their 10-day journey Tuesday.

Those supplies will be joined by a chunk of the 400,000 pounds of goods collected by Peter Mercado and his Los Amigos softball league. Currently, those goods are stranded in Coltsville, inside warehouses donated by the arms manufacturer.

“It’s a big help,” Mercado said Monday, adding that Matos’ shipment will take about 50 pallets of his supply, including all of his food and a sizable chunk of his bottled water.

“I finally feel comfortable that the stuff is heading to the right place at the right time,” Mercado said. “And it’s not going to sit at some airport, waiting to be picked up.”


Scores of donated food and water collected by Peter Mercado are sitting in a building in Coltsville. A sizable chunk of those supplies will be taken to Puerto Rico by Elliot Matos next week. (Lauren Schneiderman / Hartford Courant)

Through his diligence, Matos made arrangements to store the goods in a furniture warehouse on the island, his base of operations. From there, his crew will visit 24 stops, some 100 miles apart on roads greatly damaged by the storms.

Matos has the route tacked to a map above his desk, red push pins demarcating areas of need: Utuado, Orocovis, Morovis, Jayuya — towns in the heart of the island, far from the major metropolitan areas that get all the attention and resources.

“Everyone is hoping FEMA will step up to help, but they’re overburdened,” Matos said. “If you send aid, they take it all at once, and put it where they think it should go. We found a different way.”


Elliot Matos has mapped out all 24 stops he will make while delivering supplies to loved ones living in Puerto Rico. (John Woike / Hartford Courant)

Part of that personal touch includes something he believes is more valuable than a warm meal or a dry towel — peace of mind, delivered through two satellite phones the crew is bringing with them.

“These families have been silent for weeks,” he said. “To hear their loved one’s voice after so long, that means more than any amount of food.”

Matos is due to return Nov. 12. In the meantime, he’s hoping to continue the fundraising efforts that have, so far, netted enough to furnish a third shipping container. His goal is to keep chipping away at the stock Mercado has in the city’s Sheldon Charter-Oak neighborhood.

“The need is going to be there for a long time; it’s not like if we don’t send now, it won’t be used,” he said. “If everyone gets involved and does a little, that adds up to significant help.”


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