Local Haiti relief efforts take shape

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Even as the dust settled over the devastated city of Port-au-Prince, the relief efforts to save the Haitian people had already begun.

Across every city in the United States, people opened their hearts, and more importantly their checkbooks, to help the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Milwaukee was no exception.

Jan Byrd is the project coordinator for the Haiti Project, a Milwaukee-based Christian charity group that has helped the people of Haiti for more than 20 years. Since the earthquake hit, the organization has been flooded with interested volunteers.

“We have had well over 200 e-mails and dozens of calls from people wanting to volunteer,” Byrd said. “We were already planning a relief trip to Haiti in February, and now we are trying to get an emergency medical team to Jeanette.” Jeanette is the village the Haiti Project sponsors.

The Church of the Gesu, which has sponsored the St. Jude Parish in Haiti for more than seven years, has also seen an outpouring of charity towards its Gesu Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund. The fund was set up just hours after the quake.

“We have had thousands of dollars donated towards helping our twin parish in Haiti,” said Eileen Ciezki, Gesu’s social ministry director.

“We are not sure if the people of St. Jude have access to any food or water,” she added. “We do know that the church, rectory and school are still standing, and that Father Brene, the pastor at St. Jude’s, survived. Some of the people’s homes have collapsed, however.”

Money donated to the Gesu Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund will be distributed equally among the Norwich Mission House, which is a missionary group in Haiti, Catholic Relief Services and St. Jude’s.

Kevin McHugh, a senior in the College of Business Administration, is aiding Gesu in its efforts. McHugh has started the Facebook group “An Appeal for St. Jude’s in Haiti” to try to raise money for St. Jude’s parish.

He said he was just sitting around last Wednesday trying to figure out what he could do to help. He mentioned a homily that described the relationship and piqued interest.

“It was really the least I could think of to do,” he said.

McHugh is not the only Marquette student doing his part to help Haiti. Chris Fouche, a freshman in the College of Engineering whose parents are from Haiti, said he and his family have been doing all they can to help Port-au-Prince.

“I went to a meeting for Haitian Americans to see what I could do,” he said. “I got pictures of their missing family members and I posted them on a Facebook group so that, hopefully, they will find them. My mom is doing translating work. Haitians who don’t speak English that well can call her, and then she will call the Red Cross for them to get information.”

Fouche said hearing stories from survivors of the tragedy has begun to take a toll on his emotions.

“It’s kind of depressing,” he said. “A lot of people are helping out and a lot of countries are handing out aid but because of the broken infrastructure, it is just not getting to them. People are dying because they have no access to supplies.”

As McHugh noted, every little bit helps.

“As college students, we don’t have tons of money, but lots of little donations do add up,” he said. “Anything we give helps not just St. Jude’s, but all the people of Haiti.”

To donate to the Gesu Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, visit Gesu’s Web site at www.gesuparish.org.

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