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Local residents respond to Haiti crisis

Associated Press Photo/Julie Jacobson
A crowd lines up to fill jugs and buckets with water from a truck in Port-au-Prince, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010.  Thousands of people were killed on Tuesday and many displaced by a powerful earthquake that hit Haiti.

Associated Press Photo/Julie Jacobson A crowd lines up to fill jugs and buckets with water from a truck in Port-au-Prince, Friday, Jan. 15, 2010. Thousands of people were killed on Tuesday and many displaced by a powerful earthquake that hit Haiti.

By Curt Yeomans and Jason A. Smith

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Haitian-born Gary Hyppolite, now a resident of Stockbridge, said he was relieved to find out that his mother, Marie France, was alive and well in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

"But her home is completely destroyed," Hyppolite said.

Jonesboro resident, Dabouze Antoine, a native of Mier Blalis, Haiti, said seven of his half-brothers and half-sisters died during the earthquake. He said Friday that his father was still missing.

"Personally, as a man of faith, I know I'm going to see them again some day," Antoine said. "But, on a physical level, it's going to make me ... I just don't know, I've just got to be there."

As news reports continued to come out of Haiti in the wake of the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked the country's capital of Port-au-Prince on Tuesday, more and more opportunities arose for residents of Clayton and Henry counties to donate to the relief effort.

Residents of the Southern Crescent can help the people of Haiti recover from the devastation caused by the earthquake through a variety of methods, including heading to local churches and schools, logging onto the Internet, sending text messages, and buying groceries.

On Friday, Forest Park Middle School Assistant Principal Gengis Shakan said the surrounding community donated 20 gallon-sized bottles of water, and 10 packs of smaller water bottles, within a day of the school announcing it was collecting water and sleeping bags to send to Haiti. Those numbers do not include what students had brought in themselves.

Shakan said he expects the water collected in each of the school's 50 classrooms, which will be counted early next week, could double or quadruple the amount already brought in by area residents. "There may be another 50 to 100 gallons of water sitting in the classrooms," he said.

The assistant principal said several churches in the Forest Park Minister's Association, which often partners with the school for various projects, have also pledged to donate water to the effort.

"We've received a great deal of support from the community," Shakan said. "We have quite a bit of water already donated, and I've received a number of calls from people inquiring about the deadline and where they can drop water off."

Forest Park Middle School will continue collecting water, sleeping bags and medical supplies to send to Haiti through Jan. 22. The items will be delivered by the Atlanta-based Haitian Alliance.

Clayton County Public Schools Spokesman Charles White said any other schools in the school district that are thinking about mounting a Haitian relief project are being encouraged by his office to find reputable organizations, such as the Red Cross, to partner with. He said he was not aware of any other projects taking place at other Clayton County schools.

Ruben Brown, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Atlanta Chapter of the American Red Cross, said the national and international branches of the disaster-relief organization are asking people to help by making monetary donations, so aid can be rendered faster.

"Cash helps us get aid to people faster," Brown said. "The time it takes to store, inventory and inspect items, is time we'd rather spend providing aid to people on the ground."

On Friday, the American Red Cross announced it had released to local officials in Haiti $10 million in monetary aid the American branch of the international-relief organization had collected. Brown said people can donate money through the Red Cross through a variety of methods, including logging onto the American Red Cross' web site, www.redcross.org.

Local residents can also donate money over the phone by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS for instructions in English, or 1-800-257-7575 for instructions in Spanish.

People can also help the Red Cross raise money for relief efforts in Haiti in the check-out aisle at their local Kroger grocery store.

"We're allowing customers to round up to the next dollar to help raise money for the relief effort ... until Jan. 30," said Corneshia Hill, the assistant to the director of communications for Kroger's Atlanta Division. "We're partnering with the Red Cross, and they will be receiving the money we raise."

Other relief efforts are being launched across the Southern Crescent in the coming days.

The Meadowlands Montessori School, and Cornerstone Bible Church in McDonough, are planning to host a yard sale to benefit Haitian relief efforts, according to yard sale organizer, Siromi Binkley.

Binkley said all proceeds from the yard sale -- scheduled to be held on Jan. 23 from 9 a.m., until 2 p.m., at 180 Nail Drive -- will go directly to the American Red Cross' Haiti Relief Fund.

Haitian-American Betty Delerme Phanor, a parent of a 10-year-old student at the school, said she felt relieved to have communicated with some of her family members and friends soon after the earthquake on Tuesday. "We've located them, but they're living out on the street" in Port-au-Prince, she said.

Phanor, a McDonough resident who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she spent her pre-school years, from ages 2 to 5, living with family in Port-au-Prince. She said she last visited the country about three years ago.

She said her relatives are fearful that aftershocks may cause their home to collapse, and have been rationing off whatever food they had in their home to neighbors and passers-by.

"It's really a scary situation for us," Phanor said. "My husband's father lives in Delmas, Haiti. He survived the earthquake, but his house was completely demolished with some of the aftershocks."

Phanor, who also sponsors children in Haiti, said she has not been able to reach others living within the area.

"We have a great uncle ... we can't locate," she said. "And we have so many others that we can't locate. There are so many children that are missing. That's the tough part. You can't do anything for these people. We're just keeping our hopes up."

Added to the sense of helplessness, Phanor said, is the sense that Haiti has lost many of its iconic symbols, including the Haitian presidential palace and the main Roman Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince. "That's what's killing us, a lot of our national monuments have been destroyed," she said. "They're gone."

Antoine, the Jonesboro resident, and the president and founder of the non-profit organization H.O.P.E. Ministries of Georgia, Inc., said he's saddened by what he's seen on TV, and in the newspapers. On the other hand, he said he's inspired to take action to provide aid to the people of Haiti. "You could hear their souls in their cries," he said. "That moves me."

H.O.P.E. Ministries, which is located at 7929 Jonesboro Road, in Jonesboro, is partnering with the Clayton County Wide Homeowners Association to collect supplies -- such as soap, medical supplies, wash cloths, towels, wet wipes, and blankets -- to send to Haiti at the end of the coming week.

Antoine said he is also trying to raise $850 to build a water well to provide water to Haitians.

He said he and other volunteers from H.O.P.E. and the homeowners' association plan to travel to Haiti, via a flight to the neighboring Dominican Republic on Jan. 23, to distribute the supplies. Antoine said he plans to stay in the country for at least a week. "We want to stop the bleeding," he said.

The Henry County Rotary Club is collecting money to assist victims of the earthquake with temporary shelter. The club's parent organization, Rotary International, is seeking donations to purchase shelter boxes to send to the quake zone.

Each box, according to Henry County Rotary Club President James Withers, costs approximately $900, and is equipped with a water tank, sleeping mats, thermal blankets and a 10-person tent. "Rotary International has been sending boxes like these years, to areas affected by disasters," he said.

Withers said the Henry County Rotary Club group has a goal of supplying four or five of the boxes to earthquake victims in Haiti. He said the group will have donation boxes, to raise money for the shelter boxes, in place at local businesses, restaurants, grocery stores and at Henry Medical Center in Stockbridge, by Thursday.

Withers said several clubs in Rotary District 6900 are participating in the effort.

A number of local churches, including Higher Living Christian Church in Hampton, and McDonough Presbyterian Church, will seek to help raise money as well, by passing the collection plate an extra time during church services this weekend.

McDonough Presbyterian Church Pastor Dudley Rose said the figurative aftershocks of the earthquake hit close to home for members of his church. "In each of the last three years, we have sent mission teams to work on projects in Haiti, and therefore know personally some of the people involved in that disaster," he said. "We have been trying to reach people we know in Haiti, but it's been difficult."

Higher Living Christian Church Pastor Andre Landers said his church, which also has a community center in Jonesboro, has already sent "thousands of dollars" in financial aid to the American Red Cross Haitian Relief Fund.

"I have urged all of our members to continue to donate directly to this agency, as we believe the need is massive and immediate," Landers said. "Direct donations to the American Red Cross is one of the fastest ways to help Haiti recover from this catastrophe."

Staff writer Johnny Jackson contributed to this article.