Christopher Rodriguez turned 19 on Friday in his native Puerto Rico, and he spent his birthday giving — giving aid to neighbors still struggling a month to the day after Hurricane Maria blasted the island.
His birthday passed with him making care packages for his community in Añasco, Puerto Rico. Saturday, he’ll walk those packages across the Hondo River to local residents, as he’s been doing for the past few weeks.
In the process of his giving, Rodriguez, who is homeless, has given himself something — a purpose.
“He’s gaining the respect of the community by selflessly giving to people who need it,” said Chris Davis, who heads the volunteer group Rodriguez has been working with.
Davis and his best friend, José Aguilar, helped out after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and got the first flight they could to Puerto Rico, after Maria hit the Island.
Davis and Aguilar are military veterans from Arizona who head the group of volunteers, who’ve been nicknamed the “Añasco Expendables” by the community.
Rodriguez is estranged from his family and has been sleeping in the alley of the town’s plaza since he was 16, he said. He rode out Hurricane Maria in a local taxi terminal. He speaks mostly Spanish, so Aguilar translated for him.
Rodriguez told CNN he had never experienced anything like the storm before, but “the scariest part was being alone.”
He’s not alone anymore.
Rodriguez reached out to the group so he could help his community. Like many people who find themselves homeless, Rodriguez has been “misunderstood by the community,” Davis said. This has been a chance for him contribute, and the giving goes both ways.
Thursday night, fellow volunteers took him out for a birthday dinner on Añasco Beach. He had a big platter of fried bananas and seafood.
Rodriguez said “he felt like he was spending his birthday with his family,” which is something he hasn’t done in a long time.
Instead of thinking about what he doesn’t have, he’s helping others who are also now in need.
He doesn’t like seeing people “sad or struggling,” Aguilar said. “He likes to see their eyes light up” when he’s delivering supplies.
“Ever since he was little, he’s liked helping others. That’s how he was raised,” Aguilar said.
Rodriguez said the biggest reward for him is seeing his community bounce back and seeing people doing better.
Rodriguez hopes that someone will extend a similar kindness to him, so he can go back to school to study aviation mechanics and continue to make an impact in the community.
“We tell him every day that ‘good things come to people who do good things,'” Davis said.