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Locals leaping to help Haiti

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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Ari Cetron

The Sammamish Review
January, 2010

The day after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake flattened parts of Haiti, Kevyn O’Neill was looking for a way to help. The 2008 graduate of Eastlake interns at Mercy Corps – which her father, Dan O’Neill founded – so she knew of one way to start quickly.

She used a Mercy Corps function to set up a Web page. In three days, her page had generated $1,400.

“I didn’t think it was going to raise that so quickly,” she said.

Dan O’Neill, who on Friday was rushing from meeting to meeting, said his organization has been among those trying to coordinate a response. The news reports of devastation, he said, match what his group is hearing internally, sparking them to quick action.

“Mercy Corps is about seeing where all the problems are, the bottlenecks, and finding ways around it.”

Sammamish residents are also involved in the Red Cross’ efforts. Randy Hutson, CEO of the Red Cross of King and Kitsap Counties, and Sammamish resident, said he and his crew of employees and volunteers are raising money and fielding hundreds of phone calls per day from people wanting to give, volunteer, organize fundraisers or find the status of loved ones in Haiti.

Those trying to connect with a loved one in Haiti can visit and register as “I’m OK” or as someone to locate. The Red Cross workers in Haiti will search the organization’s shelters for anyone being sought after and then will report their status on the Web site, he said.

Of course, not all Sammamish residents are part of a organization with a global reach dedicated to helping in the aftermath of a disaster, but many are rushing to help in their own way.

The Rotary Club of Sammamish has donated $1,000 for the purchase of a disaster relief kit through an international nonproft called ShelterBox.

“Disaster always tweaks everybody’s heart strings,” said Norm Bottenberg, the club’s president. He said club members contributed money on the morning of Jan. 14, and some funds from the club’s treasury also helped meet the cost of the shelter box.

Each box is supposed to supply a family or up to 10 people with a tent. The box also has thermal blankets, insulated ground sheets, a hammer, axe, saw, trenching shovel, hoe head, pliers, wire cutters, cooking utensil and a wood-fire or multi-fuel stove.

Bottenberg said the club has an international service committee that is likely to commit more time and resources to helping with Haiti relief.

Local churches have also come up with ways to help the effort.

Suzi Robertson, vicar of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, said the church will be taking a special offering at 10 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 17.

She is also going to encourage the congregation’s youth to, “ditch their ideas of going on an exotic pilgrimage this summer, and going to Haiti for relief efforts,” she said.

The Episcopal cathedral and Trinity Episcopal School, in Port au Prince, Haiti were destroyed, she said, as was the Bishop’s home. The Hatian Diocese is the largest in the worldwide Episcopal Church, Robertson said.

“I think that the immediate response by the Episcopal Church has been fabulous, but this is a long term deal, and the Haitians will need our support for years to come,” Robertson said.

Eastside Catholic School is donating all the proceeds from the Jan. 15 basketball game ticket sales to Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic Church, according to Patti Finley, the school’s communications director. Catholic Relief Services has committed $5 million for Haiti relief, she said.