It has been a crazy couple of months for Cricely. “I just came here from Puerto Rico on October 15. I was born and raised here in New York, but when I was 14 I moved to Puerto Rico with my mother, so she could take care of my grandfather, and eventually we ended up staying there. I was there for 20 years.
And then Hurricane Maria happened.
“I’ve been through other hurricanes before, like George, but none of them compare to Maria. It was horrible. We had no power, no nothing. With Maria, I had a hunch that the banking systems would be down, so we had taken as much cash out of the bank as we could beforehand.”
As it turns out, her hunch was pretty accurate. “The next day, it was so bad. Two days after the hurricane, going to the supermarket, getting stuff, it was horrible. The lines were three or four hours, and then they would only let you buy certain stuff – one loaf of bread, one pack of bottled water. If you didn’t gas up before Maria, you’d have to sleep at the gas station the night before in order to get gas by 5 o’clock the next afternoon. The lines took that long. It was scary. There was no water to flush the toilets. You’d expect that they’d have water, but they didn’t. No clean drinking water. I actually took a couple of showers in the rain,” she recalls.
Despite going through that horrific disaster, Cricely was more worried about her family members back in New York. “I knew our family here couldn’t contact us, and we were worried for them. We wanted to let them know as soon as possible, but we had to wait two weeks before the city of San Juan at least had phone service, so we could go into the city and try to make phone calls. That was about a 50-minute drive. And the roads were covered in trees, street signs, debris, even dead animals. It was scary.”
Before the hurricane, Cricely made a living as a seamstress and a custom tailor. “I would do custom designs and patterns; I was a clothing designer. But there’s no economy there for that right now.” This week, Cricely is starting her new job as an elevator operator for an intergovernmental organization, working with the building’s security team.
She is currently staying in a shelter with her husband, who is also unemployed and looking for work. “It’s very hard. There’s a lot of screaming and fighting, so it’s impossible to sleep. The only thing they give you is the room. You have to share a bathroom, which is never clean. And there’s no kitchen, so you can’t cook your own meals. And the shelter does not provide food. Right now, thankfully I got a job, so hopefully I’ll be able to eat better soon.”
When she came to Bottomless Closet, she was surprised to find work clothing in her size. “I didn’t think I would find something here because everywhere else, there aren’t a lot of plus-size clothes. When I came here and I saw the blazer and the pants that were presented to me, and the shoes, I was really happy. Everything was nice and professional looking. That was surprising to me, so I really liked that.”
As for the future, Cricely says she would love to go back to school and get her Bachelor’s degree, and eventually start her own plus-size clothing line.