A sign is posted on the Puerto Rico Rises booth indicating they are taking donations Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, during the Chattanooga Market's CultureFest in Chattanooga, Tenn. Puerto Rico Rises is collecting food, water and other items of need to be distributed directly to areas in Puerto Rican towns.

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Local Puerto Ricans gather donations for storm-battered island

Among the booths of international food, handicrafts and cultural paintings at the 18th annual Culture Fest on Sunday was a donation booth for Puerto Rican relief.

The festival was held during the Chattanooga Market at First Tennessee Pavilion

The local branch of Puerto Rico Rises, a nonprofit founded by Puerto Ricans living in the mainland U.S., collected bags of toiletries and other high-demand emergency items for the people on the storm-battered island: soap and shampoo, diapers and razors and toothbrushes and baby wipes.

Sylvia Cintrón, a local resident and Puerto Rico native, put together the relief effort in just one week.

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"We don't want money, we don't want clothes, we don't want food," she said. "We want to make sure the stuff is going to the places they're needed most."

Cintrón said she was surprised at the turnout, adding that nearly 100 people brought items to donate. The first donation came before they even had the booth set up, she said.

"I always knew Chattanooga was a giving community," she said.

Xavier Cotto, a six-year Chattanooga resident and Puerto Rico native, was also at the booth. He said some people took the time to sort the toiletries into bags.

One man showed up with cash, Cintrón said, but she had to turn him away because they couldn't accept monetary donations.

"The gentleman turned around and went to a convenience store and came back with diapers, baby wipes, all of the primary necessities," she said.

Puerto Rico Rises will hold a national drive Oct. 21, in which all local branches will collect donations to take directly to neighborhoods most in need. The location and other details for that event have not been ironed out yet, Cintrón said. However, she said her group will continue taking donations at two locations in town, the Chattanooga Ballet and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Other booths at Culture Fest featured several countries from around the world, from India to Latin America and Asia.

Tim Frank and his wife, Carla Frank, said they have been coming to Culture Fest for several years. Their favorite part is the food and cultural dances.

"It's a good way to learn and experience different cultures around the world," Tim said, his wife completing his sentence.

Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at or 423-757-6327. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.