Volunteers, donors from diocese offer Haiti help and hope

Photo Caption: Suzie Pilon, RN, triages patients at the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic in Cyvadier.

By: By Jennifer Willems

Death and destruction have taken their toll on the island nation of Haiti in the days that followed the devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, as have the aftershocks that continue to threaten the safety and peace of mind of the people there.

But death didn’t have the final word, thanks to the determined efforts of volunteers from central Illinois and the organizations that have made it their business to offer prayerful and financial support to the struggling people of Haiti.

“We’re beginning to treat patients now,” Deacon Richard Hammond of Bartonville reported via his blog from the Friends of the Children of Haiti clinic in Cyvadier on Jan. 20. “The latest aftershocks were felt, though we’re fine and so is our clinic structure.”

That alone is a statement of good news and hope after a week that left them wondering how they would be able to help after flights to Haiti were canceled and the airports closed.

Volunteers from the Haiti Mission Connection, which is based in Peoria, and the Haiti Mission Team from Streator weren’t so lucky. They told The Catholic Post that they had to postpone trips, although they are sending the money and supplies they were planning to take with them.

PARISHIONERS from around the Diocese of Peoria also are showing their solidarity through a special collection last weekend that was requested by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC.

“We in the Diocese of Peoria have always been generous to those who are less fortunate than we are,” he wrote in a letter to pastors that was dated Jan. 14. “Working in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services, we . . . can help make a difference in the lives of those affected by this terrible tragedy.”

As of Jan. 20, 33 of the diocese’s 187 parishes and missions had sent checks totaling $65,274 to the Office of Finance, according to John Bannon, director. He said the Diocese of Peoria would be sending money to Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore this week and would continue to do so as long as contributions are received.

ON A smaller scale, the students at Costa Catholic Academy stepped up in a big way to raise $913.30 through a bake sale organized by the student council. Mary Norton, religion teacher for grades six, seven and eight, said that with a $100 donation from the student council and a matching donation of $100 from the Costa development office, they would be able to send more than $1,100 in disaster relief to Haiti.

“We have a very generous, kind community,” said Norton, who noted that her students have sponsored students in Haiti through Save the Children for many years. They are currently sponsoring a 10-year-old girl, but haven’t heard anything about her or her family in the wake of the earthquake.

“We know that she’s not locatged near the epicenter,” Norton told The Post. “If something happens to her, Save the Children will let us know. But with the chaos down there, we don’t know. We just kind of pray and hope.”

Epiphany School in Normal, meanwhile, raised $3,170 from students and families for the Red Cross through a “casual Friday” incentive, according to Richard Morehouse, principal.

PRAYER and hope and a lot of hard work got the team from the Friends of the Children of Haiti into Jacmel, about seven miles from the organization’s clinic in Cyvadier.

Deacon Hammond and his wife, Barb, arrived in Haiti with volunteer Larry Shank of Peoria the week before the earthquake. They were preparing the FOTCOH clinic for the first of six medical teams that were scheduled to visit Cyvadier this year when disaster struck.

“Dick said there was some damage to the clinic, but ‘nothing we can’t
handle,'” said Tim O’Brien, president of the FOTCOH Foundation, on Jan. 13, adding that they still had power and water.

Talking to The Post a week later, he said Deacon Hammond had reported that there didn’t seem to be any additional damage as the result of a 6.1 magnitude aftershock that occurred in the early morning hours of Jan. 20.

The team’s 21 members arrived a few at a time on charter flights from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the first being their medical director, Dr. Bill Edwards, and Sue Behrens, APN, both of whom are on staff at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria. Behrens and her husband, Eric, are team leaders for this visit.

Eric Behrens also serves as the executive director of FOTCOH.

WHAT THE organization needs most is money, O’Brien told The Post.

“We have a lot of generous donors who are always there, but our frustration is there are a lot of people who are hearing about us now who don’t know how to make a donation,” he said, noting that contributions may be sent to P.O. Box 789, Peoria, IL 61652 or online by going to fotcoh.org.

“We really felt the jolt of the economy last year financially,” O’Brien explained. “We didn’t come into this in the position we would like to be in, but you don’t get to make those choices.”

Meanwhile Martha Willi, president of the Haiti Mission Connection in Peoria, said she has not heard very much from the clinic or parish school of St. Benoit (St. Benedict the Moor) they support in Bodarie, Haiti.

“APPARENTLY there is no big damage, but they’re starting to get people from Port-au-Prince who are returning destitute,” she said. “We’ll probably be sending relief money for the care of refugees.”

The organization is set up in such a way as it supports the Haitian staff, so the work continues whether or not volunteers from central Illinois are able to be on the ground. So while their Feb. 6 trip has been delayed, it will not impede what needs to be done, said Willi, who has been involved in mission work to Haiti for more than 20 years.

“The thing is, and maybe this obvious to people, but the rebuilding effort and rebuilding people’s lives is going to take years,” she said. “It’s not something that will be over in six months.”

THE HAITI Mission Team, which includes a core group of volunteers from St. Mary’s Hospital in Streator, was scheduled to leave for the Center for Hope in Jeremie, Haiti, on Jan. 15, but was forced to cancel the trip at the last minute.

“We’re waiting,” said Carolyn Evans, a nurse at St. Mary’s Hospital and team liaison. “We had to cancel our trip in October, too, and this was the only date we could get this year.”

That won’t prevent aid from reaching Sister Maryanne Berard, OSF, administrator of the Jeremie clinic. Evans said she packed four boxes of medicines and sent them to the clinic’s founder, Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, in Connecticut.

“He is hoping to get there by a different route,” she told The Post. “He will get our medicines there faster than we could.”

In the meantime, the Haiti Mission Team continues to raise funds for their work in Jeremie. There will be a beer and wine tasting on Friday, Jan. 29, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Streator. This year’s theme is “Mardi Gras” and guests are invited to dress accordingly.

The cost is $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Tickets may be purchased at Streator Drugs or by calling Kaye Koltveit at (815) 672-4109, Darcy Beals at (815) 672-3576, or Carolyn Evans at (815) 672-3830.

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