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Date of Issue: January 20, 2010

Islanders offer prayers, donations to help Haiti

The Rev. Jean Woady Louis’ phone rang every few minutes Jan. 14, but the early-morning callers brought no news of the priest’s family in Haiti.

“No clues,” said the priest at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach.

“My dad, my brothers and sisters and cousins, everyone is there,” Louis said that morning, two days after an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude hit the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The epicenter was about 10 miles southwest of Port-au-Prince, home to an estimated 3 million people.

“I have tried all the means to reach them. And no clues. It is very difficult,” Louis said.

But later that day, he did receive word from Haiti — good news that his relatives survived, though homes were destroyed.

Still, Louis remained concerned for the people of his homeland, which he last visited in November.

“It’s something we cannot imagine,” said Louis, assigned to the Anna Maria Island church about a year ago. “The country is in ruin. And the lives of the people. It is so very difficult.… ”

While Louis worried about friends and family in Haiti, a former St. Bernard priest, the Rev. Jean Ronald Joseph, was in Haiti when the earthquake struck.

For two days, St. Bernard parishioners and Joseph’s friends on the Island worried about Joseph, and those at the Haitian orphanage he supports through the nonprofit, Bradenton-based Ministry of Presence.

Many Islanders called Islander newspaper publisher Bonner Joy, a close friend of Joseph, for news.

On Jan. 14, Joy received a one-minute call from Joseph, who traveled about two hours to telephone. The priest’s message was he’s “OK.”

But his native country is in ruins.

For those in Haiti, Louis and St. Bernard parishioners gathered to pray Jan. 14. People also gathered at other Island churches.

“The churches are in prayer,” said Nancy Ambrose of All Island Denominations, the coalition of Island churches. “That is a very powerful thing right there. There are all kinds of prayers going up from the Island churches.”

In addition to the prayers, Islanders rallied to send money and supplies to Haiti.

Ambrose, who coordinates the Historic Bridge Street Merchants Association’s Bridge Street Market in Bradenton Beach, put out a collection jar for donations to relief efforts at the Jan. 16 market.

Meanwhile, the Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island board committed an initial $3,000 to relief efforts, including committing $1,000 for boxes from ShelterBox USA, which is based in Lakewood Ranch.

Each box contains a tent, sleeping mats, blankets, water-purification kits, rope, netting, tools, a cooking stove, eating utensils and ponchos.

“We’re doing everything we can to ensure immediate aid reaches the people of Haiti,” said ShelterBox general manager Lasse Petersen. “The process of getting our team on the ground is well under way.”

In addition to sending ShelterBoxes, the Rotary club last week was collecting donations for relief efforts at its Web site, www.annamariarotary.org.

Local Girl Scouts — members of Troops 583 and 316 — were collecting supplies, including canned goods, bottled water, blankets, clothes and toiletries.

“Even one can of food or a bag of rice helps,” said Girl Scout leader Laurie Higgins, who can be reached at 941-778-8312.

Additionally, the Teen Scene at the Anna Maria Island Community Center was collecting supplies, especially toiletries, as part of the People4thePeople campaign.

Youth also were helping at school. The Manatee County School District, which has about 660 students of Haitian descent, started a Hope for Haiti campaign, encouraging students and staff to raise money for the International Red Cross relief efforts.

The International Red Cross, as of Jan. 14, had committed $10 million to relief, and deployed disaster specialists from Peru, Mexico and the United States to Haiti.

The organization established a quick method for people to donate to the cause, allowing mobile donors to contribute $10 by texting “Haiti” to 90999. Donations also were being collected at www.flwestcoastredcross.org.

“I encourage people to contribute to the International Red Cross,” Louis said. “And to our Catholic Charities and also the Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince.”

Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot, the archbishop of Port-au-Prince who died in the quake, was Louis’ professor of philosophy. And, because Louis still belongs to the diocese in Haiti, Miot also was his bishop.

The Diocese of Venice, which includes Catholic churches in Manatee County, took up collections Jan. 16-17.

“Many people in the Diocese of Venice are worried about the loss of both family members and friends who are in Haiti,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane said in a statement.

Businesses also mobilized to help with the relief effort.

The Chiles Restaurant Group, which has a dozen Haitian staff members, was planning to send supplies to Haiti.

And The Islander, working with the restaurant group, was planning a long-term campaign to collect goods — canned food, rice and beans, powdered milk and juice —  and cash donations for relief, especially the Ministry of Presence.

The Islander, as well as the Girl Scouts, also planned a “piggy-bank campaign,” with the placement of donation jars at local businesses, including the newspaper office, 5404 Marina Drive.

“Money,” said Joy, “is most needed.”

“Father Ron,” she added, “is there [in Haiti], making a caldron of soup to take to the hospital in Del Mar, where they are treating people with most limited resources.… If you know of a man, or priest, who can turn a nickel into a dollar, and do the most with it, that man is Father Ron.”