Jason Caraballo and his fiancée, Alexandria, had been eagerly awaiting their wedding at Mulinos at Lake Isle Country Club in Eastchester, New York, since the moment they set the date. The details were all in place: The bride had her dress, the groom chose his best man—his father, Jose— and flowers and décor were finalized. But just two weeks before the wedding, one of the most crucial elements of the big day was left up in the air.
"My dad left for Puerto Rico a week before the hurricane first hit," Jason told Martha Stewart Weddings. "My grandfather was put in the hospital with severe respiratory issues. We knew that there had been constant storms occurring but never had the idea that Puerto Rico would get hit, let alone in such a magnitude." After Hurricane Maria hit, the family went six days without word from their loved ones. By that point, Jason says, he accepted the fact that his father likely wouldn't be able to stand by his side at the wedding, but he just wanted to hear they were safe and sound.
Luckily, Jose and his father made it through the hurricane unscathed, but flights in and out of the island were all but stopped, and Jason and his sister worked around the clock to book flights for their dad out of the country. "We were booking him to anywhere in the continental U.S. just to get him home, but every flight we reserved or actually paid for was getting cancelled," Jason says.
While waiting for a flight for his father, Jason got involved with a non-profit foundation called Afya, a Yonkers-based organization that helps deliver medical and humanitarian aid to communities in need. Jason, who works for the Yonkers Fire Department, ran a food drive earlier this year and still had about $500 in donations left. After Hurricane Maria hit, Jason received an email from Roger Robles, the treasurer of the Hispanic Society of Yonkers, which had been working with Afya on donations, who asked if he could help. The Greater New York Hospital Association helps Afya source medications and supplies needed in tragedy-stricken areas, and the group provided Robles with an outline of items still needed. "At that moment, I knew this money need to go towards this cause," Jason says. "I went to Shop Rite and Walgreens and emptied their shelves of cough syrup for children, Motrin, and Benadryl. I dropped it all off to them about an hour later."
Then, something amazing happened. Jason was helping to sort the donated medicine with Afya when he got a text that his father's most recent flight was cancelled. "I jokingly said at the moment, 'Can we stuff my dad in one of these care packages and bring him home?' Sarah Skylar, who gave me the list of medication for the donations, asked me what my dad's name was and where he was to see if anything could actually be done."
With help from Afya founder Danielle Butin, Sarah was able to find a seat for Jose on a return flight out of Puerto Rico, but the journey wasn't over yet. "My father was in Mayaguez, located on the west side of the island which is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to San Juan in perfect conditions. Sarah called me at 7 A.M. on Sunday asking if my father could make it San Juan by 3 P.M.," Jason said. With $20 worth of gas in his tank, Jose made it San Juan in just about three hours, and got his seat on a plane that had been generously offered by the UJA-Federation of New York, an Afya partner responsible for funding air shipments to Puerto Rico and securing planes for transport. "The feeling that I got when I realized that I now was going to get my dad and best man back in time for my wedding was such a relief," Jason said. "There would be no void in the happiest day of my life."
The family was reunited at Westchester County Airport last week, and it was the first time Jason had seen his father in nearly a month. "It meant everything that he got to stand by my side when I got married. He made me into the man that I am today and it would not have been the same without him." As for his work with Afya, which serendipitously made the reunion possible, Jason says he's so glad he was able to help their cause. "It's an honor to work with everyone at Afya and be part of the amazing work that they are doing. I will continue to work with them as long as they keep doing these amazing things for people in need all around the world."
To help Afya continue provide aid in Puerto Rico and beyond, please visit their website for more information.