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About 130 people packed a room at the Levy Center on Jan. 13 to voice their support for relief efforts in Haiti and to find out how they could help. Others spilled out into the hallways. Many persons in attendance have family or friends in Port-au-Prince and had not been able to contact them or determine how they fared in the earthquake.

The townhall meeting was sponsored by the Evanston-based Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti. Second Ward Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, chair of the Board of the organization, led the townhall meeting.

“We are confronting one of the most devastating earthquakes on the planet earth,” said Ald. Jean-Baptiste. “This was the worst earthquake in 200 years. It is the deadliest in the world.

“We know many of you are anxious and want to help, and we want to channel that in the best way we can. This kind of crisis belongs to all of us, and we have to bring our will to lift the Haitian people out of this,” he added.

While the full scope of the human toll is not currently known, some early estimates put the death toll at between 50,000 and 100,000. The International Red Cross estimates that a third of Haiti’s nine million people may need emergency aid.

During the townhall meeting, many organizations and individuals pledged their support. Some people volunteered to go to Haiti to provide nursing care, to drive heavy machinery, to drive vans to transport food.

Becky Streifler, a representative of the Chicago Chapter of the Red Cross said, “We are here to show our concern and support.” She said the Red Cross has sent high-level professionals, with expertise in disaster management and water purification, to Haiti. She said, “One of the biggest things we’re doing now is asking people for financial aid.”

Mark Dyer, a representative for Shelter Box, a Rotary-funded organization said his organization responded to the hurricane disasters in Haiti in 2004 and 2008. He said they had just sent 10,000 self-contained boxes to Haiti that provide everything a person would need to live for six months, except food.

Aline Lauture, treasurer of the Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti, said the organization was prepared at this time to accept light medical supplies, and water purification kits. Dr. Ludovic Aomeau, a founder of Haiti’s Opportunity for Primary Education, said, “This fund-raiser that we are involved in must be the mother of all fundraisers…It’s going to take billions and billions of dollars.” He urged people not to give goods but to “send money.”

Kwami Raoul, State Senator of the 13th Legislative District, said “First and foremost we need prayer. We need prayer from the entire community.” He said, “Be very cautious about who you make your contributions to,” and added, “If you’re in it, let’s get in it for the long haul. It’s going to take years of commitment.”

Anastasie Senat, a member of the Haitian Lawyers Association, said she had talked to White House staff earlier in the day. She said the focus was now on rescue and recovery. While everyone wants to know what they can do, she said, “There needs to be a coordinated effort.”

She said the White House staff recommended that contributions be made to established relief organizations; that before a person donates goods to the relief effort, they make sure the goods are needed; and that a person should only deliver goods to an organization that has the capacity to deliver and to distribute the goods in Haiti.

USAID’s website, www.usaid.gov, says, “Monetary donations are the most effective form or assistance because they allow humanitarian organizations to purchase (or the affected region itself) the exact type and quantity needed by those affected by the crisis.” The website goes on to say that the cost of shipping may exceed the cost of procuring the commodities within the region. Many other organizations and political figures pledged their support. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffedin said, “Our goal is to listen to the various groups, and we’ll be looking for the direction on how to best help to direct resources.”

Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes said she told Ald. Jean-Baptiste, “I’m here to do whatever I can to support his efforts.” Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey said, “My heart is just breaking. Whatever we can do we will do.” Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, and Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, echoed these remarks.

Patrick Hughes, a member of the Board of Evanston’s Chamber of Commerce said, “The Evanston business community would like to do anything we can.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Ald. Jean-Baptiste said, “We think there should be a Marshall Plan for Haiti. We think that ought to be done for Haiti.”

The following websites (among many others) provide information on how to help by donating services, money or goods, and information on how to connect with missing family or friends in Haiti: American Red Cross – www.redcross.org; Catholic Relief Services – www.crs.org; Doctors Without Borders – www.doctorswithoutborders.org; The Haitian Congress to Fortify Haiti – www.haitiancongress.com (click on press release); City of Evanston – www.cityofevanston.org/global/haiti.shtml; Center of International Disaster Information – www.cidi.org/incident/haiti-10a/.