The Chilean community in South Florida gathered to collect donations and raise money for the victims of the devastating earthquake that hit their nation.
BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
SPECIAL TO THE MIAMI HERALD
After hearing news that a powerful earthquake struck her native country of Chile, South Miami-Dade resident Veronica Stanham nervously searched for family information on social media networks.
Unfortunately, she found bad news: A message from a relative read that her uncle died of a heart attack shortly after the Feb. 27 natural disaster shook the South American country, killing more than 700 people.
“I was distraught,” said Stanham, who was born in Concepción, which was at the epicenter of the earthquake.
Last week, an emotional Stanham — a dancer with the group Agrupación Folklorica Puro Chileno — clapped and sang to the South American national anthem in memory of her uncle and other earthquake victims at a relief effort at Sweetwater’s Sabores Chilenos restaurant, 10760 W. Flagler.
Hundreds listened to music, watched performances and enjoyed traditional Chilean dances like the cueca. People from all over South Florida dropped off cash donations, diapers, water, canned foods, clothes and bed sheets, which will be distributed by the Chilean nonprofits Hogar de Cristo and Amor de papa.
Organizers also asked for donations of winter clothing, noting the winter season is approaching in Chile.
Stanham, who has lived in Miami for 10 years, was joined by her two children.
“I forget about the situation when I hear music I grew up listening to,” said Stanham, who cried while performing.
Several local businesses and residents donated beverages and food.
Proceeds went to a nonprofit organization led by television personality Don Francisco, legendary host of Sábado Gigante.
About 70 volunteers cooked shish-kabobs and made traditional Chilean drinks like Pisco Sour.
The event, which also included a car wash and raffle, took place in the restaurant’s parking lot, where several tents, chairs and tables were set up.
Restaurant owner Ingrid Encina worked on getting the event together a day after the earthquake.
“The power of my country wanting to start all over motivated me to do this event,” said Encina, who said her family in Chile survived.
The 12-hour relief effort helped collect $22,000. Miami-based shipping company RP Fast Trading donated three 40-foot-high cube containers.
Chilean María Inez Betancourt along with six of her countrymen drove from Boca Raton to drop off boxes of diapers and clothing.
“Our country is suffering,” she said. “But the drive is nothing. We needed to do something.”
Even those who weren’t in attendance helped with the cause.
Sabores Chileno patron Claudio Valero donated and shipped 120 boxes of diapers to the restaurant.
At the event, folklore dance groups, singers and a guitarist had the crowd dancing on a makeshift wooden stage. A disc jockey also played rock ‘n’ roll classics.
Performer Cristian Veldivia paid homage to the Chilean flag by leading the cueca dance.
“It’s spiritual. We all know that we can recuperate materials,” said Veldivia, who donated $100. “But, what we need to recuperate is the Chilean spirit.”
At one point, a large group of Chileans waved a giant Chilean flag shouting, “Viva Chile!”
Encina said the gathering of the community is gratifying.
“It is satisfying that we are here together for our country,” Encina said.