Stranger pays for Norfolk man’s trip to check on family in Puerto Rico

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — George Rivera has not heard from his family in Puerto Rico for more than 11 days.

“Of course I am worried,” he said.

Rivera talked to his son and three grandkids after Hurricane Maria made landfall, but he’s now worried they do not have access to food and supplies in the mountains 70 miles from San Juan.

“I call everyday; everyday I call,” said Rivera. “It’s just hard to get up there … My son has a small house next to his mother’s house that a tree fell on and that’s gone. Outside of that, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Things are just that bad.”

On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported just five percent of the island had power. Rivera was watching 10 On Your Side on Monday when he learned about the Lynnhaven Dive Center collecting and hand delivering donations to Puerto Rico.

He began researching, emailing, calling and even showed up to the business on N. Great Neck Rd. to see if they could help get him to the island. About an hour later, owner Lindsey Hillier called him back.

“I heard that desperation in his voice. I am a mom. I have four kids. I knew what that felt like,” Hillier said. “I had to do something and help him.”

Rivera thought the Virginia Beach business had a boat, but Hillier says her friends have been paying out of their own pocket to fly the supplies to the island. The donations inside the business range from food to flashlights, cleaning supplies and generators.

“I said, ‘we are not going on a ship, but we are flying down. Maybe I can help get you a ticket,'” recalls Hillier.

She then asked Rivera for his personal information, paid for the $500 round-trip ticket and emailed him his itinerary without even meeting him in-person.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Rivera said. “I just couldn’t believe they set everything up. Now, I am going to Puerto Rico faster than anyone else could have done it.”

Hillier says the Army veteran was brought to tears over the phone. She didn’t want recognition, but she hopes the random act of kindness rubs off on others.

“We all can do our own small part and help out … with all the craziness going on in the world, it’s mostly about us human beings helping one another and nothing else really matters.”

Rivera will fly out Saturday from Norfolk International Airport to Puerto Rico. He’s hoping for a happy reunion with his 92-year-old father, son and grandkids.

Lynnhaven Dive Center is collecting donations until Oct. 15. The business says they are accepting checks and gift cards to hardware stores. They have also listed their specific needs for donations on their Facebook page.