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Middle school collecting supplies for Haitian relief

Forest Park Middle School sixth-grader Stevens Estime's thoughts are on old friends and family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, these days.

Estime, 11, and his family moved to Forest Park from the Haitian capital in 2008. On Tuesday, the southern part of Haiti, particularly Port-au-Prince, was rocked by an earthquake that has caused widespread devastation in the capital city.

"I'm concerned about the safety of people I went to school with [in Haiti]," Estime said.

But, Estime's thoughts, like the thoughts of officials and other students at Forest Park Middle School are turning to how to help earthquake victims. Forest Park Middle School has begun collecting supplies, such as bottled water, and sleeping bags, to send to Haiti for relief purposes.

Forest Park Middle School Assistant Principal Gengis Shakan, who is organizing the school's relief-supply, collection effort, said the school will collect supplies from now until Jan. 22. The supplies will be given to the Atlanta-based, non-profit organization, The Haitian Alliance, Inc., for distribution to victims of the earthquake.

The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting on its web site that the epicenter of the earthquake, which registered a 7.0 on the Richter Scale, was 10 miles southwest of the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince. According to the USGS, the earthquake occurred on the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system, in the southern part of the country.

Shakan said he and Forest Park Middle School Principal Jamille Miller-Brown decided to collect items for Haitian relief efforts since there are two students at the school, including Estime, who are natives of Haiti, and they, themselves, have family members in that country who are recovering from the earthquake.

"Just talking to our principal, and seeing some of the stuff on TV about the devastation, we knew we had some students from Haiti, and it seemed like a worthy cause to get involved in," Shakan said. "There is a critical need for items down there right now."

The Associated Press is reporting that the quake caused, at least, the partial collapse of several buildings, including the palace of Haitian President Rene Preval; shantytown shacks; hospitals; schools; the country's main prison, and the main Roman Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince. There were 2 million people living in Haiti's capital at the time of the earthquake, the AP reported.

Estime said one of his uncles, and some family friends, still live in Port-au-Prince. "We've been able to get a hold of them, and they are all right," said Leon Jean-Charles, Estime's father.

According to its web site, the Haitian Alliance is organizing a state-wide effort in Georgia to gather items such as water, food, medicine, blankets, cots and tents, to send to Haiti for people in need of those supplies.

Shakan said an invitation has been extended to administrators at the other 59 schools in the Clayton County system to join in the effort to collect supplies for Haitians. "So far, one administrator [at Lovejoy Middle School] has already indicated he would be interested in participating in this effort," Shakan said.

There is no set amount of items Shakan said he is aiming to collect, but he added that he would like to gather as many items as possible, to help as many Haitians as possible. "On a school level, we're going to have a competition between homerooms, where the homeroom that collects the most items will be treated to a pizza party," Shakan said.

But, Estime said the main focus is helping people in need, not earning rewards for good deeds. "We need to do this because they need the items, and parents need these things to take care of their children," he said.

In addition to Forest Park Middle School, other groups are calling for public assistance to help people in Haiti as well. Those groups include the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which announced on its web site an appeal to raise $10 million to offer assistance to 5,000 families living in areas affected by the earthquake.

In remarks posted on the White House's web site, President Barack Obama said Americans trying to locate family members in Haiti can call the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747 for assistance.

"We are just now beginning to learn the extent of the devastation, but the reports and images that we've seen of collapsed hospitals, crumbled homes, and men and women carrying their injured neighbors through the streets are truly heart-wrenching," the president said.

For more information about donating supplies at Forest Park Middle School, for the relief effort, call the school at (404)362-3840.

— The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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On the Net:

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: http://www.ifrc.org/

Haitian Alliance: http://www.transformhaiti.org/