Bridges and other infrastructure were wiped out. Debris from landslides blocked roads. Hurricane Maria, a powerful category 5 hurricane, made landfall as the strongest storm to impact Puerto Rico in over 90 years, devastating a significant portion of the island. Facing months with no water and no electricity at their home, newlyweds Coral Gonzalez and her husband moved in with her mother.
On the island of Puerto Rico, more than 80% of food is imported. Food shortages in the aftermath of the storm were shocking. "We didn't see how big a problem it was in Puerto Rico until then," Coral recalls. "And we thought we could do something more, to be more self-sufficient and sustainable."
The family began working her grandfather's land to survive. The grounds were overgrown and needed a lot of cultivation.
Looking for stable employment after the hurricane, Coral took a job at the Los Colobos Home Depot store in Carolina, Puerto Rico, as a sales associate. She works at the same store today, selling kitchens, baths and appliances. Her husband, Abel Merced, also wears an orange apron and works at a Home Depot store in Humacao.
Today, Coral and her family grow papaya, passionfruit, breadfruit, avocados, cacao, spinach, pigeon peas and more. The tropical climate means some foods, like breadfruit, are harvested year-round. She and her husband share the fruit of their harvest with their fellow store associates at both stores, and they also share seeds so their colleagues can grow their own food.
Coral has learned a lot from watching online videos and from organizations that provide information about growing sustainable foods. Working in a store has its advantages, too, because Coral has been able to ask her fellow associates gardening questions. "I've learned so many things here. Some of my coworkers have a lot more knowledge, and we exchange information with each other." He adds, "She's a wonderful colleague who likes to share what she has with others, and above all, to teach the techniques of how to take advantage of the fruits of the earth."
Department Supervisor Luis Morales has been on the receiving end of Coral's generosity. "Coral has given me several plants and seeds, among them spinach, pigeon peas of various kinds, passionfruit, soursop and seeds from the kapok tree, which is the national tree of Puerto Rico."
He adds, "She's a wonderful colleague who likes to share what she has with others, and above all, to teach the techniques of how to take advantage of the fruits of the earth."