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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Islander needs help for Haiti hope

"To whom much is given, much is required" is Earl Mowry's byword, and he has given and given for it. Now he needs help so he can give more.

He needs items for "bags of joy" to entice children to hope, and ultimately to rescue their country. And he needs financial donations to help the project live on.

"Once you see those children's faces, you can't help but go back," he said. "You can't help but to love them."

He will leave for Haiti - Cape Haitian and Madelin, where he and others from Anna Maria Island have nearly completed a church - when he can gather more gifts.

He's waiting to gather 400 or so "bags of joy" to take to the children in whom he has so much faith. The bags "bring them into church," he said, and gradually to education and an adulthood more fulfilling than they otherwise could expect.

The gift bags are simple one-gallon plastic bags which he fills with things the underprivileged children there wouldn't ordinarily have. The kids loved the 350 he took to them last year, he said, and it about broke his heart that he had only half enough bags for the crowd of kids.

Mowry is asking for help filling bags, which he will gladly provide. The note attached asks for a small gift, toiletries, school items such as pencils, crayons and paper, and socks. Or donors are welcome, he said, to make up bags and drop them off to him.

To get the bags shipped, he would appreciate some cash donations - $1 to $2 per bag would be a great help, he said. He needs money also to further the huge project he and some others are bringing about with sweat and sacrifice. Not alone, but with the help of the Haitians for whom it is designed.

Now they have completed a 47-by-100-foot church building, and this spring they plan to pour a concrete floor and then, about June, dedicate it to service. It will have a sound system, diesel generator and light fixtures, and a power pump bringing water from a well they dug.

It all started from little more than bare ground that the pastor purchased in 1999. There was a large mango tree there, and Mowry and fellow Christians gathered under it in 2000 to pray for help.

By 2002 they were able to start construction of the big church, involving willing Haitians in every phase. They carried 10,000 pounds of lumber and steel beams three-quarters of a mile through mud and began their daunting task.

By last year they had the walls up and the roof trusses in place and covered. From there on it should be easier. But no. They have set still other tasks, involving acquiring a strip of land next door and building a school and an orphanage there.

Mowry and his companions from the Island and Bradenton aren't the first to devote themselves to Haiti's betterment, he noted. American church members and others have been going there for decades, most of them military veterans who had seen the suffering of the poor in many parts of the world "and Haiti was near enough so they could be of use," Mowry said.

They raised money to put into their projects, as Mowry and his fellows do, and put their muscles into them as time permitted. Mowry, as the Island example, takes as much time off as he can afford from his TV service business in Holmes Beach, the only business he's ever done in his 50 years on the Island, he noted.

He's not sure how long his advancing years will permit it, for others have had to drop out as they aged. He'll go on while he can, though. He is concerned that the younger generations are not as interested as his.

They can't love Haiti and its people as he does, for they haven't been there. He hopes they will go and see "a genuine Christian atmosphere," he said, "no jealousy or bickering like you see in so many churches in the United States.

"It's not really a church thing, but an overall Christian program of giving and loving. These 'bags of joy' show kids how much we love them, and it gets them into church to improve their lives and then on to education. We'll expand our school this year.

"Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, it desperately needs help and we are trying desperately to help in a practical way. The country's real hope is in the children."

To donate bags of joy or, at least equally important, cash to finance the volunteer projects, call Mowry at home, 778-2694. Donations may also be dropped at The Islander, 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.