Rescuing Haiti: One box at a time

The difference between life and death for a person in Haiti might be sitting in this box in a Minneapolis warehouse…

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or this one…

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or this one…

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or this one…

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Sutures, cots, plastic sheeting, rope and respirators are the building blocks for whatever new life Haitians face. They’ve been donated by area businesses and hospitals and by Thursday morning, they’ll be on their way to Miami in donated trucks, stored in a donated warehouse and — if the American Refugee Committee can figure out how to get a cargo plane out of Haiti — delivered to the volunteers working in Haiti.

A small group of people in the Twin Cities has been tapping the generosity of businesses, and depending on the donations of people to make it happen. “We don’t expect anything, ” Daniel Wordsworth, the president and CEO of the ARC said today. “We hope for things.”

So far, hope works

Hope works because people like Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council called a family friend who is one of the owners of Mortenson Construction to get some trucks. It works because Perry Witkin (speaking in the video below), who owns Stat Technologies in Golden Valley (and is on the ARC board) , accompanies the supplies to Miami and knows how to get things done. It works because “nobody has said no” so far, according to Hunegs. It works because Best Buy donated satellite phones. It works because the Mosaic Corporation pledged $125,000. It works because people who aren’t as well connected, well known or well-off picked up a phone and believed they could make a difference.

“This is the biggest shipment I can remember,” Therese Gales, ARC’s spokeswoman told me. “Most of the time we buy things in-country.”

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“People have said, ‘What do you need?'” says Witkin. “I was in New Orleans for Katrina and we had truckloads of winter clothing showing up in July. Now people just ask what we need. You see the very best of human nature.”

It’s going to take at least that:

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I asked Wordsworth whether the images from Haiti make his agency’s work seem like a drop in the bucket, that it’s too big of a problem? “What I do know,” he said after ratting off a half-dozen disasters he’s been at, “is this problem is not too big and the people of Haiti will return. For us, this is why we exist.”

More than a week into the disaster, there’s been some finger-pointing that aid isn’t reaching Haiti quickly enough. It’s not for lack of trying, as a caller to NPR’s Talk of the Nation made clear this afternoon.

“As much as, of course, my heart goes out to all of the suffering and heartache that these people are experiencing, I really think that so much of the criticism and impatience of my fellow Americans sitting in their living rooms at home, generously donating their dollars is really emblematic of the need we have in this country for instant gratification. And I don’t think people are really understanding enough that everyone who is on the ground there is making the very best effort that they can in the face of practically insurmountable obstacles… if it isn’t done immediately, right now, this second, then somebody is doing something wrong. I just think we need to give these people more credit for what they’re doing on the ground there.”

And here.

(To read more about the life of an ARC volunteer in Haiti, go here)

  • charity

    that’s nice.

    good work.

    I am assuming that all power in Haiti is not working, the water system may be corrupted, the phones down…although there are satillites. I wonder what it would be like to actually have that type of situation happen to yourself? Here, now in Minnesota, although i can’t think of a natural disaster, well blizzard maybe that could cause that kind of damage.

    How would we survive?

  • Anne

    I truly respect those who are trying to get supplies to those who need them in Haiti. The magnitude of the problem is not understandable to anyone who is not on site. The best comparison I heard was when there was a similar size of earthquake in California, there were 60 deaths. In Haiti they are still finding bodies. Our lifestyle is very different, our economy and expectations are very different. We have no comprehension how fortunate we are and how unfortunate others are if we aren’t there to see it.