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A helping hand for Haiti

Local groups work to gather food, supplies and money for earthquake relief efforts

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Posted: Thursday, January 28, 2010 12:00 am

AURORA | The small, chilly room in the corner of Agape Seventh Day Adventist Church is piled high with boxes of noodle soup, cartons of bottled water and large bags stuffed tight with clothes.The items, all donated by church members and community members, are destined for Haiti, a place that most of the church’s 40 members once called home.

Emmanuel Jean, an elder at the north Aurora church and a native of Port-au-Paix, Haiti, said that since the massive earthquake rocked his home country, the Saturday church services at Agape have been somber.

“They have been more emotional and difficult because we have several members who have lost their loved ones,” Jean said. “It’s very tough for them.”

In Jean’s case, his family, some of whom live in Port-au-Prince, survived the quake but some of his siblings were injured.

“But they are OK right now,” he said. “The hospitals are too full, so they can’t go to the hospital, they have to get treatment at home.”

Agape, like a handful of local non-profit groups and area students and volunteers, has been scrambling in recent weeks to gather food, clothes, medical supplies and money for the victims of the Jan. 12 quake, which leveled the Haitian capital of Port Au Prince and, according to estimates, left more than 100,000 dead and millions more homeless.

At Project C.U.R.E in Centennial last week, an army of volunteers stacked two trucks full of medical supplies bound for Haiti.

Still, even after the trucks left the organization’s headquarters, thousands more items filled Project C.U.R.E warehouse as volunteers worked to organize and box up the donated supplies.

And more is on the way.

“I don’t know how much more will come in,” said Stephanie York, director of operations for the group’s Denver facility. “But I’m anticipating probably a lot.”

The 22-year-old agency, which stands for Commission on Urgent Relief and Equipment, specializes in gathering and donating medical supplies to those in need around the world.

Since the Haiti quake, donations have spiked, York said, with hospitals and surgical centers donating supplies that medical teams in Haiti likely need — including casting supplies, orthopedic surgery supplies, crutches, wheel chairs and Band-Aids.

One of the challenges, York said, has been getting the donations from donors in the United States to the emergency crews in Haiti who need it.

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake not only toppled buildings in and around Port-Au-Prince, including the presidential place, it devastated the country’s primary shipping port, toppling cranes needed to take containers from ships to land.

“Right now it is trickling out because we can only fly it in,” York said.

Because it costs so much to send the materials — about $20,000 for a semi-truck sized container — York said if people want to help, the best thing to send is cash.

“Honestly, if I were to pick one, the best really is money,” she said. “I know that makes people nervous … but money really is the best way to support the people who are trying to rebuild Haiti.”

Area schools are also chipping in to help Haiti.

At Columbia Middle School, students paid $1 last week for the privilege to wear a hat during the school day. The proceeds were sent to Haiti.

At Lotus School for Excellence charter school, students paid $1 for a two-foot strip of tape that was later used to tape down teachers during an assembly. Those proceeds, too, went to Haiti.

The Aurora Rotary Club is also trying to raise money for Haiti, working with a nonprofit called Shelter Boxes to send disaster relief kits there.

Diana Whye, the club’s assistant secretary and the executive director of the Community College of Aurora Foundation, said the boxes cost about $1,000 each and contain a 10-person tent, blankets, cookware and other essentials.

“We thought that was the best way we could utilize our resources,” Whye said.

For Whye, the quake in Haiti is personal.

Her grandmother was a native of Haiti and immigrated to the United States. She still has cousins, aunts and uncles who live there as well.

“Fortunately, none of them were hurt or killed, but there is a lot of concern,” Whye said.

Before the quake hit this month, Haiti was already one of the poorest countries in the world and had a history of economic struggles.

That history only exacerbated the problems when the quake hit, Whye said.

“Haiti was a poor country before the earthquake hit. This has only devastated them even further,” Whye said. “If any good came out of this, I hope it is the fact that now the eyes of the international community are on this nation.”

Back at Agape church, Jean said one of the worst parts about the quake was that it hit so close to Port-au-Prince, the country’s financial center and a place where many Haitians, including Jean’s family from the northern coast, have flocked to for work.

“Port-au-Prince is the heart of the country,” he said. “If Port-au-Prince is effected, the whole country is. Everything is Port-au-Prince.”

Because the situation is so dire in Haiti, Jean said he encourages people to donate whatever they can, no matter how small it may seem.

“The most important thing is, for those poor people over there, anything will help them,” he said. “Anything.”

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