Immediately after the January 12th, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Vancouver Island residents Al and Shirley discussed several times about what they could do to help a country which they knew was desperately poor and only just starting to recover from decades of horrendous strife, corruption and incredibly inept governance by despots of all stripes. They saw how the worst Haiti earthquake in nearly 200 years heaped immeasurable additional suffering on Haitians and knew that providing survival supplies and everyday products would benefit the homeless and poor sooner than promised donor country funding.
We asked Al and Shirley to describe their Haiti project and explain how they were able to organize efforts to help approximately 1,500 people. This type of project is ideal for individuals, couples and families who wish to help those in need who live locally or in another country. A similar project was completed last December in Vancouver, focussed on passing out Christmas stockings filled with necessary items and gifts to the homeless living in the Downtown East side.
Information about organizers: The Compassionate Warehouse in Victoria and the Canada Comforts Society based in Colwood sent a request for donations of household goods, clothing, school supplies and medical items as they were preparing a number of containers for shipment to Haiti.
Pre Event Preparation involved: Shirley was recently established as St. John’s the Baptist Anglican Church, Cobble Hill, Head of the Shoebox Ministry, which usually provides shoeboxes for children at Christmas. She decided to extend this Ministry and elicit support from the Parish family and clergy to collect money and products and to produce as many shoeboxes as possible, initially, for a shipment of school supply kits for the children of Haiti. Two other co-relevant projects were added to the Haiti project by us.
Other assistance: Fourteen volunteers from our church and community helped to compile the kits.
Preparation and implementation on the day/for the project: The process of collecting from many sources required patience and public relations with local businesses. The goal was to secure reduced prices on school supplies and, later, for the second project filling shoe boxes with personal hygiene materials like tooth paste and combs, for example. Church functions such as Robbie Burns night and the ACW (Anglican Church Women) provided us with extra funds for the numerous costs of individual types of products such as bears, Hot Wheels toys, plastic shoeboxes and flip flops, for example. Individuals and local businesses provided products and purchase vouchers. All this collecting was time consuming – not to mention consuming tank fulls of gas for the car. Keeping accurate inventories of all materials and respective costs, as well as planning for the lining up and filling of these containers, required countless hours at the computer or lugging in and sorting the necessary products for filling all these containers.
Three types of shoebox projects were developed and completed:
1) 150 school supplies shoeboxes
2) 205 personal hygiene kits for children or adults and
3) 67 clothing kits for boys and girls including: sets of tank tops, dresses, underwear and flip flops, and a small teddy bear for girls; and t-shirt, underwear, flip flops, teddy bear and Hot Wheels cars for boys.
Additionally, a large container of hygiene products, school supplies, blankets and dresses rounded out some 26 cartons full of shoe boxes.
We knew it was also important to have complete lists of the contents taped to the outside and a copy inside, plus box numbers and ‘Haiti’ written on each box. The Compassionate Warehouse provided clear guidelines on what to include and what not to include. One cannot use any cardboard cartons previously used for fruits or vegetables, so cartons from bathroom rolls and the like were fine.
It is essential with these types of projects to have adequate room somewhere at home with space for a staging area. We organized two shoebox filling sessions at our home with fourteen volunteers from our church and community filling each box carefully with the same materials.
The successful and on time completion and delivery by truck to the Compassionate Warehouse required careful organization and timely acquisition of all the materials necessary. Shirley did an incredible job in coordinating and overall managing these three shipments for Haiti.
As Christians we believe that God provided assistance every step of the way. Interestingly it always seemed that new money, assistance or products arrived at times we needed help with cash or product shortfalls.
Successes: One day after delivering some boxes to the Compassionate Warehouse in Colwood, we were most surprised to see three elderly seniors walking slowly towards the staging area at the warehouse. They were pushing walkers! They could therefore sit and sort out items for packing. At the main sorting and handcraft production centre, seniors as old as 90 are busy not just socializing at the drop-in centre, but producing bags, teddy bears and other items for the needy. Across Canada thousands of Canadians do likewise.
It seems to us that we are even closer as a couple when we are working together to help others. We recommend this type of outreach to anybody who is bored with life and feeling unloved or not feeling relevant enough in a ridiculously over commercialized world.
From this experience we realized the love and caring of Canadians at our church and in our community and the heart warming feeling of doing something productive for as many of Haiti’s homeless and suffering as possible. We estimate our work will help about 1,500 people. The cartons were included in a container to be sent from Victoria to Vancouver by barge, then by road to Montreal, by ship to the Dominican Republic and by road to Haiti for off shipment and distribution by experienced people on the ground. These boxes were to be distributed in an area where 5,000 people are homeless and in tents. Even the main school was flattened.
Tips: Those wishing to show the love and caring for others need to be very organized.
1. Determine what you want to accomplish based on the actual need.
2. Develop a team to work with and help in specific ways to achieve the established goal.
3. Figure out what products, supplies and services you may need and the funding to accomplish all this.
4. Be very conscious of personal time constraints and those of your team, the time you have to finish the project and how to overcome shortages of money in terms of alternative strategies.
5. Always give others, especially the business community, a chance to say yes or no to a reasonable request for assistance, however small.
6. With these volunteer, charitable projects, you want to remain credible, devoted to the cause and show absolute and consistent appreciation for any help you get. Never single out one person to thank. Try to thank participants and donors in any public thank yous on a general basis so as not to offend someone who you could, inadvertently, forget to thank.
Future plans: When a new need arises we will do what we can within our personal capabilities to help.
Shirley will continue with her sewing for the needy and working with friends and the Canadian Comforts Society as they continue to help the needy in other countries like Ukraine, India and of course, Haiti. The huge populations of the world’s poor are always in need. Al supports and assists Shirley in whatever way is needed and feels honoured to help, although sometimes quite fatigued, but it is always worth the efforts.
Other interests: We are on our sixth year taking phone orders for shut-ins and filling them at the local Thrifty’s store. We do this one Thursday per month. Many people, not always seniors, are unable to go grocery shopping for different reasons. We help the callers with ordering items from the current flyer or in other ways such as suggesting certain products when they are unsure of what to order. The Sendial programme is staffed by volunteers like us and has been in operation island-wide for about 20 years.