Since a 7.0 earthquake shocked the nation of Haiti to its core on Tuesday, January 12, the whole world has reeled from reports of the 70,000, — and counting — death toll and footage of the desperation now ruling the streets of the capital city of Port-au-Prince.
Though Sag Harbor and environs doesn’t boast a huge Haitian population, the East End isn’t immune to the devastation caused by this natural disaster. Many residents and local organizations share strong ties with the small, impoverished Caribbean country. From churches to musicians to high school clubs, local groups and activists are banding together to raise money and awareness for the victims.
The Southampton Full Gospel Church was one of the local organizations hit hardest by the earthquake. Since 1982, the parish has operated and funded Mission Reach Out Haiti, a non-profit organization that has established a school and church in Leogane. The school, noted James Boyd, an administrative assistant to Pastor Donald Havrilla, educates 1,400 children and employees 95 people.
As of Monday, Boyd noted that one child and two staff were confirmed dead. Around 20 teachers and a number of students are still missing. The Gospel Church is still in communication with their Haitian base and the people there report many of the buildings are standing but are severely damaged. Fortunately, the well is still pumping water and the kitchen remains intact; but food supplies are dwindling and were expected to be finished by Tuesday. Yet even in the face of this devastation, the Haitian Parish held a service on Saturday in the streets. The altar was brought outside and close to 150 people attended Mass, said Boyd.
Boyd added that due to the fear of aftershocks, many people have been staying on the streets, rather than in damaged structures. In fact, on Wednesday morning, a magnitude 6.1 aftershock, the strongest of more than 40 that have occurred since the earthquake hit, rocked Haiti once again, sending people running for open areas.
Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor helped fund a school in Chermaitre, in the northwest mountains of Haiti. Working with Vassar Haiti Project, the local church raised $30,000 in the summer of 2008 with a two-day sale of Haitian art. The funds were used to build a new classroom. According to parishioner Carol Spencer, the school felt a ripple of the earthquake. It wasn’t damaged, though. The tragedy is extremely personal for Christ Episcopal Church’s minister Father Shawn Williams. He noted the Long Island Episcopal Diocese has shared a strong connection with Haiti for the past 50 years. Father Williams attended seminary with a man from Haiti and one of his best friend’s family lives in the country.
“When you put faces on [the earthquake], the situation takes on a whole different urgency,” noted Father Williams.
The critical need for supplies and medical services is evident in the countless reports saturating the media. As of Monday, the Haitians camping out on the Mission Reach Out Haiti school grounds hadn’t received aid, said Boyd. He reported that the bodies are rotting and the stench is in the air; and victims are lying on the ground with cuts, lesions and broken limbs.
“They don’t see doctors, helicopters or boots on the ground … I couldn’t imagine my neighbor being in severe pain and not even having aspirin to give them,” remarked Boyd. “We suffered through Katrina, this is the same. I can’t even say the response is bad. It is non-existent.”
Boyd said the Gospel Church attempted to rally support from local and state politicians to use the fields behind the Haitian school as a drop-off zone and temporary medical facility. As of yet, they haven’t heard back from any governmental agencies.
“Right now we are collecting funds. We don’t really have a way to get supplies down there,” noted Boyd, who criticized the bureaucracy he believes is blocking relief efforts.
While the logistics of moving food, water and supplies is being negotiated on the ground, local residents were swift in their reaction to the tragedy. East End-based musician Dan Bailey, who has helped organize a benefit concert at Bay Street Theatre next weekend, was rehearsing with his bassist Obed Jean Louis, a native Haitian, last Tuesday when they learned of the earthquake. By the next day, Bailey and his friend Lauren Chu founded the organization Hamptons For Haiti and planned a series of concerts on the East End and in New York City.
“When something like this happens it is very easy to feel helpless. We wanted to get the community together and establish something for the long term,” said Bailey, who added that the group, which doesn’t have 501(c)(3) status, will host concerts into the summer.
In Sag Harbor, the Pierson Model United Nations (MUN) club is close to launching a multi-faceted fundraising and awareness campaign, said club leader and teacher Sean Kelly. Pending the necessary permission, the group will host an information booth at Pierson sports games and on Main Street. A concert is expected to be held on a Saturday afternoon in February, featuring bands like The Glazzies, King Tut, Wiggleboy and the Rubber Band. Pierson’s MUN plans to produce plastic bracelets in Haiti’s national colors, which will be sold. As far as their awareness efforts, the group has created a page on Facebook and are posting flyers throughout the school.
“Our part right now is to get money to someone who can use it as quickly as possible. We need to work as fast as we can because a whole bunch of people need an outlet for their giving. We can be that outlet,” said Kelly to club members at a meeting on Friday. “We need to capture the spirit of giving as soon as we can. It is hard to rekindle that charitable spirit.”
Boyd agrees that what is needed most at the moment is money to not only provide relief supplies but to rebuild the country after the debris is cleared. Two years ago, Boyd visited the church’s school and parish in Haiti and was astounded by the level of poverty he observed. Boyd described how children were dressed in rags, how the streets and beaches were littered with garbage, and the ocean was brown murky water for 100 feet off the shore. Boyd remembered seeing a little girl with a mild eye infection that had became progressively worse. Her eye “looked like it was coming out of her head,” recalled Boyd. He accompanied her family to the nearest hospital, about an hour away from Leogane. When they reached the overcrowded hospital, Boyd had to argue with the one attending physician to treat the girl.
“That is what it took to take care of a simple infection and that was in the good times. It was bad before the earthquake. It was unimaginable as a Westerner,” remarked Boyd.
In countless news reports, the people of Haiti have been referred to as a resilient group. Boyd argues this resiliency is merely a will to survive.
“They are forced into that situation. Yes, the people are resilient but there is no need to push people to resiliency,” he noted.
Of rebuilding the country in the aftermath of the earthquake, Boyd said “Getting back to where they were before isn’t going to help them. They need to get it right this time.”
In an effort to encourage donations to Haiti Relief, The Express has compiled a small list of how local organizations are fundraising to help the victims of the earthquake:
Bay Street Theatre
Bay Street Theatre will host a benefit concert in association with the recently formed organization Hamptons For Haiti on Saturday, January 30. The evening event features many musical acts including Dan Bailey and Living Rhythm, Djambeli Drum and Dance, Alfredo Merat, Jim Turner and special guests. Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman also helped coordinate this event. The doors will open at 8 p.m. and donations can be made at the entrance. Businesses are invited to sponsor this event by contributing $1,000 and up. The proceeds from the event will be evenly divided between Yéle Haiti and UNICEF. Locals interested in volunteering for the event can email Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bridgehampton Lion’s Club: Cub for Kids
Cubs for Kids, a children’s outreach program organized by the Bridgehampton Lion’s Club, set-up a concession stand of baked goods at the Buckskill Winter Club over the weekend to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti. The Lions Club reported that seven cub members and their friends, with 12 children in all, helped sell cookies and cakes near the packed skating rink. Over Saturday and Sunday, the children raised around $934. By Monday, January 18, the money was sent to Partners in Health. The organization, said a press release from the Lions Club, operates a network of clinics in rural areas of Haiti.
Of the cubs’ generous donation, Partners in Health Executive Director Ophelia Dahl wrote in an email, “Our team is bringing medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hit the hardest. Your contribution will help this life-saving work.”
Community Bible Church
According to Doug Kinney of the Community Bible Church (CBC), his congregation is collecting monetary donations that will be sent to a number of charitable agencies in Haiti. These organizations include Mission Out Reach Haiti, which is owned and run by the Southampton Full Gospel Church; Calvary Chapel, a group of churches affiliated with CBC which is currently working in Haiti; Evangelism Resources, which operates a school in Port-au-Prince and is run by Noyac native Stephen Liversedge; and Friends of Internationals, a ministry lead by Jim and Mary (nee Schiavoni) Mather. Kinney said the church will split the donations between these ministries unless a donation is designated to a specific charity. All donations can be sent to CBC, 2837 Noyac Road, Sag Harbor, NY 11963.
Christ Episcopal Church
Father Shawn Williams said checks can be sent to the Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor at 5 Hampton St, Sag Harbor, NY 11963, which will then be forwarded to the Long Island Diocese’s Episcopal Relief and Development chapter. To make a donation directly through the Long Island Diocese please call 298-8831.
Pierson Model United Nations
Starting next week, the Pierson Model United Nations club will host a series of fundraising events and activities, including a concert with The Glazzies and Wiggle Boy. According to club leader and teacher Sean Kelly, the group hopes to raise around $5,000 for the victims of the Haiti earthquake. The club is still deciding which organization will receive these donations. For more information contact Kelly at email@example.com.
The Ross School
The Ross School hosted a “Dress Down Day” at the Upper School on Friday, January 15. Participating students paid $10 to wear regular clothes instead of the school uniform. With this one event, the school raised $4,158, which was donated to the American Red Cross International Response Fund. The donations were sent over the weekend, said Ross School Communications Coordinator Carey London. The students, with the help of Athletics Director Karin Schroeder, planned a fundraiser for today, January 21, named “Help Haiti: Ping Pong Night at Ross.” High School students will pay $5 each to enter a ping pong tournament. Prizes donated by local businesses will be awarded to the top contenders. The remaining items will be auctioned off. Pizza, drinks and other food will be sold throughout the event. For details on the ping pong fundraiser please call 907-5225.
Southampton Full Gospel Church
The Southampton Full Gospel Church oversees Mission Reach Out Haiti, a not-profit organization which has established a ministry and school in Leogane, Haiti. James Boyd with the Gospel Church encourages residents to send donations to Southampton Full Gospel Church at P.O. Box 126, Southampton, NY 11969, with a note designating the funds for the Mission Out Reach Haiti.
Stella Maris Regional School
On Saturday, January 16, Stella Maris held a family movie night, showing the film “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” Admission was $20 per family and baked goods were also sold at the screening. According to Parent Association member Kelly Bailey, the movie night garnered around $500 in donations and a bake sale to be held today, Thursday, January 21, is expected to raise an additional $150. Bailey said the proceeds from these fundraising events will be sent to the Catholic Relief Services.