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In September 2017, Cleveland business owner Anji Brooks Barshick adventured to Puerto Rico for a 5-day vacation at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Puerto Rico Golf & Beach Resort. Barshick, a successful small business owner in Cleveland, operates Love, Anji, a paper florist located in the heart of Downtown Cleveland’s 5th Street Arcades. Anji specializes in handmade paper flowers and operates a charming gift shop with candles, notebooks and more. Her business was born out of an allergy to fresh flowers and growing support from the community for her unique creations.
As Barshick and her husband settled into their trip in Puerto Rico, she didn’t think the predicted weather would be “that bad.” When Barshick explored leaving, she learned a category 5 storm was on the horizon and guests would be ushered into common areas for safety. As the hurricane hit, Barshick recalled being impressed with the work ethic, kindness and warmth of the staff at the resort. “The staff moved us to the second floor the day of the hurricane, and it was essentially a concrete fortress. They had pillows and blankets, games, movies, a buffet… We didn’t know it was that bad. While their home was being destroyed outside, they were worried about keeping us comfortable and calm.” Scenes from inside the resort during the hurricane, where the staff was able to provide what Barshick calls “creature comforts.”
The day after the hurricane, Barshick and other guests – dubbed her “hurricane family” – made plans to drive into town to find a convenience store for supplies. “What we encountered was surreal. We were safe, but we didn’t know what others had to go through. This is people’s lives. Overnight, the beauty of the island had been wiped out.” While supplies were limited, the people of Puerto Rico still exhibited positivity and kindness, selflessly sharing goods and exuding unity with tourists.
After returning to her room in the resort, Barshick immediately noticed that her lush rainforest room view had transformed to be dull and lifeless. “I cried seeing their world had flipped upside-down,” she explained. As she soaked in her surroundings at the resort and in-town, Barshick knew she had to do something.The view from Barshick’s room before and after Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
Immediately upon her return to the United States, Barshick began crafting handmade paper flowers of the Puerto Rico flag. This effort evolved, and soon Barshick was planning a party to fundraise for Unidos Por Puerto Rico complete with raffle donations from other local businesses, food and drink.
“The reception by Clevelanders was amazing. The devastation in Puerto Rico had now hit one degree closer to home, and I sold out of the Puerto Rico roses quickly. I sold more online than I had!” Barshick chose this charity because 100% of the proceeds would go directly to the citizens who bravely helped her during a frightening natural disaster.
Barshick also assembled a stunning paper flower flag of Puerto Rico in support of her experience. “I hope to gift this flag to a Hispanic-owned business to be displayed proudly.”For a limited time, Love, Anji has re-opened the fundraiser benefiting Unidos Por Puerto Rico. Visit the Love, Anji online shop here to purchase a flower in support of the people of Puerto Rico.
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Photos courtesy of Anji Brooks Barshick.