By Kristina Webb
Since a 7.1-magnitude earthquake shook their home on Jan. 12, the people of Haiti have looked to the sky, searching for aid that has been trickling into their shattered country.
There are over 100,000 Haitian immigrants in Miami alone, according to government records. With such a large Haitian community, South Florida has been at the epicenter of Haitian relief efforts.
Missionary Flights International (MFI), whose headquarters are in Fort Pierce, has been flying to Haiti for almost 40 years. MFI provided the first relief flight on the ground in Haiti, aside from the military, arriving less than 24 hours after the earthquake.
In addition to taking supplies such as dry goods and medical necessities, MFI brought back a special passenger load on Jan. 18 — a group of 26 Haitian orphans meeting their new parents for the first time.
According to Dick Snook, president of MFI, assistance has been flowing in from around the country.
“It’s funny how the Lord works,” Snook said. Clothes, food and medical supplies have been streaming into the organization’s hanger at Fort Pierce Airport.
Normally only flying out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, MFI now has daily flights.
The program has also received the assistance of NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick, whose company, Hendrick Motorsports, has lent two passenger jets with flight crews to MFI to assist in their flights. This, said Snook, will help MFI fly in more relief in the form of both people and cargo.
“One of the things about our country is that we have a lot of generous people,” Snook said.
Cash donations have been steadily coming in, allowing MFI to focus on the task at hand rather than worry about the economic burden of the project.
“This is a ministry; it doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the Lord,” Snook said. “Our experience is when these things happen, we don’t worry about the finances. That’s God’s part of it. He touches people’s hearts.”
Here in Palm Beach County, the local branch of the Red Cross is currently accepting only cash donations.
“People can be creative,” said Brittany Miller, press assistant with the Palm Beach area chapter of the Red Cross. Miller encourages students to come up with unique fundraising drives.
“No matter a local or international disaster, the community in our Palm Beaches-Treasure Coast region answers the call, shining through with unbelievable financial support and offers to help,” said Larry Casey, CEO of the local Red Cross chapter.
The Red Cross has set up a fundraiser through which people may donate $10 by sending a text message saying “Haiti” to 90999.
Palm Beach Atlantic University has organized a relief drive, asking students to donate unused clothing, dry goods and various other supplies.
“I would encourage students who want to help to pray, give, and if led by God, work through an organization who has been in Haiti, is currently there and has an infrastructure in place to serve,” said PBA Campus Pastor Bernie Cueto.
The chapel office, located in the Okeechobee building, is one of several drop-off points around campus.
The money that is collected will go to help Haitians in the PBA community return to Haiti to help their community.
This is especially significant to PBA employee and alumnus Jimmy Jean-Baptiste, whose father and six siblings were in Port-au-Prince at the time of the earthquake.
“It was devastating,” Jean-Baptiste said. “What’s hurting the most is that my father and one of my brothers who live in the U.S. went there two weeks ago. That makes it more family to worry about.”
After waiting several days, Jean-Baptiste received the news that his father and siblings are alive and well. However, this news was bittersweet: His aunt and cousin died as a result of the earthquake, and several other family members are still missing.
Jean-Baptiste said he hopes to go to Haiti to help rebuild, and he was excited when contacted by PBA President Lu Hardin to assist in coordinating the school’s fundraising efforts.
Hardin said he has been impressed with the response from the community so far.
“While I have been touched by many instances of individuals giving sacrificially to this university, perhaps the most touching example of fundraising took place this week when several students gave significant contributions to our fundraising efforts for Haiti,” Hardin said. “Literally, exuding the widow’s mite in sacrificial giving.”
These organizations are collecting funds now for the Haiti relief effort: