With boxes and bottled water stacked almost to the ceiling, and 40 pints of blood donated, more than 200 volunteers called it a day after working for five hours transforming a Mormon Church cultural hall into a storehouse of supplies to be sent to Haitian earthquake survivors. On Sunday, Jan. 17th, volunteers showed up to work at meetinghouse in North Miami Beach, where a non-perishable food and clothing drive, as well as a blood drive, took place.
Volunteers from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale showed up, hoping to fill a 40 foot shipping container outside, in front of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' building. Large boxes were filled with supplies and labeled in English and Creole and will be put in the shipping container Jan. 24. Volunteer coordinator, Matrina Barry, was overjoyed by the turnout.
"I'm uplifted by the people here today and the outpouring of love and service for our brothers and sisters in Haiti," said Sister Barry. "It shows how people are always willing to help."
This Miami humanitarian effort got started after Albert Benzion, president of the Miami Florida Lakes Stake, stayed up all night Jan. 12 watching news coverage of the earthquake disaster.
"In times like these when a great tragedy takes place, we forget our differences. We can be believers and do nothing, or we can be believers and take action by helping those in need," President Benzion said.
One of the youngest volunteers was 6 year-old Brianna Capote who asked her parents to help the Haitians after watching footage of the disaster on television.
She said, "I'm glad we're helping give food to Haiti."
For many, this volunteer effort was personal. Magdala Pierre Labranche of the Miami Shores Ward told her story as she folded clothes and put them in a box. Sister Labranche had to wait three days to hear if her mother, father, brothers and sisters had survived the earthquake in Port-au-Prince. She is grateful that her family is alive but agonizes over their suffering.
"My family is alive and safe, but they have no food or water and are sleeping on the streets," said Sister Labranche, who last spoke to her family Saturday night.
Another Haitian volunteer, Bernadette Laurent of the Miami Shores Ward was also there to help. After giving blood she shared her story. She said after waiting four long days she got word that her immediate family was alive. She wasn't sure about the status of her extended family in Haiti.
"I'm grateful to have my life and that I am able to help my people," Sister Laurent said.
The last time Sister Laurent heard from her family was at 4 am Sunday when her brother called to say he was dying of hunger. She said it is hard to think about what her family is going through, but helping with relief efforts help eases her pain. Sister Laurent's daughter, Joyce, was helping her mom fill boxes. The 10-year-old girl said she was happy to help the people of Haiti, and if something like this had happened to her, then she would want others to help her.
Sister Laurent's husband, Wesley, had to leave his family working at the church to go visit a five-year old Haitian boy at Jackson Memorial Hospital who was brought in from Haiti. Sister Laurent's husband called later to tell her that the boy had his right hand amputated after developing an infection. The boy was flown in with his father while his mother and two younger siblings were back in Haiti.
Volunteers plan on coming back to the cultural hall and finish packing boxes and accepting donations until Jan. 24, when they will fill the shipping container.
"We will continue with our efforts as long as the need is there," said President Benzion, who has more shipping containers available if needed.
Arrangements have been made with a Miami shipping company to transport the supplies in a container, which is anticipated to arrive on Feb. 3 at a Hatian port other than Port-au-Prince.