The produce industry and the American people have responded in overwhelming fashion to the tragedy unfolding in Haiti.

While we are seeing news reports daily from Haiti now, what will be the level of engagement with this story in a month or two?  Caring about the people of Haiti seems should not be a short term proposition. Thankfully, a select group of  people in America and other countries have devoted their lives to helping the poor of Haiti and other countries.

Where I live, in Olathe, Kan., the Heart to Heart International has been heavily involved in relief efforts for Haiti quake victims.  

Go here to find out more about H2H and donate to their relief efforts.

The Perishable Pundit, also recently posted this link showing North American relief agencies.

In only 10 days, many in the produce industry have reacted with purpose. Here is an admittedly incomplete tally of what I’ve been able to observe — what has come through my inbox and posted on The Packer’s Web site — with the industry’s reaction to the earthquake and trauma in Haiti that began Jan. 12.

To help alleviate the suffering of the people of Haiti, Sunkist Growers is donating $25,000 each to two relief organizations – Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders.  

Greenhouse shipper donates
peppers to Haiti

Leamington, Ontario-based Nature Fresh Farms donated 1,560 boxes of peppers, which were dehydrated and used as an ingredient in a soup mix, according to a company news release.Nature Fresh’s donation helped to provide more than 1 million servings of soup in Haiti. The company donated the peppers to Ontario Christian Gleaners, which makes and ships the soup mix.

Whole Foods creates Haiti fund, taking donations
Donations benefit AmeriCares, Food for the Poor, American Red Cross, Partners in Health, Doctors Without Borders and Action Against Hunger.

Vista Hermosa gives to Haiti

The Vista Hermosa Foundation, located near the Tri-Cities, has committed $400,000 to four separate organizations providing disaster relief efforts in Haiti.  
As a way to connect the local community and children to this relief effort, the Vista Hermosa Foundation, through its Young Givers Program, will match any funds intended for World Vision, Food for the Poor, Beyond Borders and Haiti Partners.  These funds must be raised by youth living in the Walla Walla and Tri-Cities areas.  
The Vista Hermosa Foundation is a foundation started in 1988 by the Broetje Family.  The foundation uses profits generated from Broetje Orchards to serve children and under-served communities, both at home and around the world.

Retailers Use Social Media for Haiti Aid

One column I recently read puts the Haiti tragedy in the context of the struggles that already existed in the country.

From that story:

Even before the tragic earthquake of Jan. 13, Haitians lived in difficult conditions. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, ranking 149th out of 182 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index and 168th on Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perception Index. About 10 percent of Haiti's population, or 1 million people, count on the UN World Food Program for all their meals.

An estimated 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and fewer than 30 percent of children reach the sixth grade. An estimated 225,000 children work as unpaid laborers in de facto slavery.

In any given year, foreign aid makes up between 30 percent and 40 percent of the national budget. The literacy rate is 65 percent, the lowest in the Americas. Only 40 percent of Haitians had access to basic health before the earthquake, and 90 percent of children suffer from waterborne diseases or intestinal parasites.

According to the World Health Organization, about 50 percent of deaths in Haiti consistently come from HIV/AIDS, meningitis or diarrhea caused by diseases like cholera and typhoid. More than 98 percent of the country is deforested as the population cuts down trees to make charcoal, the main fuel for heating and cooking.

Several people involved in earthquake relief efforts on the ground contributed insights on Haiti and advice on how to help.

Thinking long-term

Haiti will not avoid natural disasters in the future, so the international community needs to do its best to leave the country better prepared to cope with such events. Now, even several days after the massive earthquake, the scale of the catastrophe remains unclear.

Money collected by People in Need' is already at use in relief efforts and, thanks to the generosity of the Czech public, will continue to help finance rebuilding infrastructure that has been destroyed on the island.

We have been involved in Haiti for a number of years through a partnership. For any humanitarian organization - and People in Need is no exception - it is always very tempting to set up one's own mission in a troubled area. We have partnered with the Irish NGO Concern - a group that, like us, is a member of the international humanitarian association Alliance 2015.

This partnership allowed us to get involved immediately in a country known for political instability and crime. By cooperating with an organization that has worked in Haiti since 1994, we are able to utilize their know-how and access the relationships with local communities in particular through more than 100 native staff members. We believe this experience makes our aid more effective and the coordination gives help to the people most in need.

A natural disaster like the one in Haiti is a tragedy, but it is also an opportunity. The scale of events and the related media attention create public awareness and form the backbone of a successful fundraising campaign. Money can be turned into help for actual people in need.

We launched our campaign SOS Haiti within moments of hearing about the earthquake, when early and still unclear information of the scale of the catastrophe was reaching the Czech Republic. The campaign has been met with a quick and strong response by the public. As they have many times before, people are showing an outpouring of concern and a willingness to help.

People in Need managed to collect more than 7 million Kc ($869,565/267,380 euros) during the first days after the quake.

Already, we have dispatched 100,000 euros for aid most needed in the initial phase of humanitarian operation - especially for the distribution of drinkable water, food and the building of temporary shelters. People in Need's coordinator left for Haiti on the morning of Jan. 16. She is joining the team from Concern already on the ground supervising the distribution of aid.
Meanwhile, in Haiti, the destruction of vital infrastructure, telecommunications, roads, electricity and especially the sea port is hampering relief efforts. Damage to the airport and roads has impacted the speed with which aid can be brought in and distributed.

The slow arrival of aid on the streets is inevitably raising the frustrations of survivors, who desperately need immediate help, and such tensions may lead to a worsening security situation on the island. It is vitally important that supplies do not fall short and that people continue to donate beyond this initial surge.

The biggest challenge for Haiti is still to come, when the first phase of immediate help ends and the international TV crews return home. People in Need will allocate some of the donations we collect from the SOS Haiti fund and dedicate it to rebuilding basic infrastructure, the health and education systems and other longer-term development projects. With a record of natural disasters in its history, it is essential for Haiti and its inhabitants to be better prepared. They will be hit again. Donations can be made by bank transfer to SOS Haiti account 40954095/0300 or by sending a text message with "DMS SOSHAITI" to 87777.

- David Grossmann is media coordinator for People in Need (Clovek v tísni), a Czech NGO that has worked in 37 countries providing humanitarian assistance and development programs.

And finally, a blog post on the CNN Web site
from Laura Blank of World Vision. “Just one more day…”

It had been two days since many of the children had any clean water to drink. The smell of dirty diapers filled the air, and as the rusted orange gate in front of the Bresma Orphanage rolled open, the eager eyes of more than one hundred children stared back at us. Their caretakers looked haggard and tired, but managed to smile weakly as we approached the orphanage with relief goods.

We had spent several hours driving around the maze of streets in this Port-au-Prince neighborhood, desperately trying to find the orphanage. With phone lines still down in most parts of the city, the only thing we had to go on was a text message from a woman in the United States sent 24 hours earlier, pleading for us to help these children.

“We are trying to get help for an orphanage in Port-au-Prince,” it read. “150 kids, almost all infants and toddlers, many with diarrhea. No food, no water…Fear losing smallest.”

I was surprised to get a message like this from a stranger, but her plea was heartbreaking and desperate enough that I couldn’t ignore it. The next day, a group of World Vision employees and I gathered food, water, and medical supplies for the children, then journeyed out to their home in Delmas, Port-au-Prince.

The orphanage was small – just four rooms, a courtyard, and a basement – but it was fairly clean. This little home that originally housed more than 60 children now held over 100, having taken in additional children after their orphanage was damaged in the quake.

As we approached the gates, a boy walked up to me almost instantly. He snuggled up to my legs and lifted his arms in the air, looking up in eager anticipation for a hug or someone to hold him. His feet were bare, and he wore a small pair of navy blue shorts and an old yellow t-shirt. I reached down, pulled him up to my hips, and held him as we walked into the orphanage.

Dozens of healthier children played outside in the courtyard. Their clothes were old and many of them didn’t have any shoes, but they smiled as they played. As we entered the tiny room off of the courtyard, it became clearer why this woman had so desperately sought relief for the orphanage from me, despite never meeting me.
Several small babies were tucked into chairs, vacant stares in their glassy eyes. They didn’t make a sound, but just sat there, quiet and listless. On a mat to my right, half a dozen small children in white t-shirts and diapers lay on the mat, arms curled up next to them, motionless.

Their arms were thin and weak, and they barely managed to lift their heads up when our group entered. On the other side of the room, just next to the door, one little girl laid with her head on her arms, skinny legs tucked under her, completely still. She did not look well. Things got worse as we walked further into the orphanage.

Cries broke the darkness of this next room. It was nearly 5 p.m. in Haiti, and the sun had started to set. Without power, the orphanage started to grow darker and darker, but the children’s cries persisted. Many of them were sharing cribs with other children, and the sickest children, suffering from severe diarrhea, malnutrition, and dehydration, were lying in another crib closer to the window.

Everywhere we went, children followed us, curious by the color of our skin, our soft hair, and the cameras that hung around our necks.

As I continued to hold the little boy in my arms, another boy, a few years older, stood on the table next to me, and started playing with my hair. I looked at him, and he smiled, pulled back a strand of hair and just looked back at me with contentment, despite the dismal conditions of his “home.”

One of the caregivers, Charitable Milfort, said the orphanage had been buying bottled water and food from the local markets, but skyrocketing prices were making it impossible for the orphanage to provide for all of the children.

She told us that the children – and the staff – hadn’t had any water to drink for more than 2 days. Food was running low, and the food they had wasn’t enough to feed every hungry mouth. They had no IVs left and no IV fluid to help rehydrate some of the weakest children, but they had been attempting to give them oral rehydration solution (ORS) made of water, sugar, and salt to try to strengthen their tiny bodies. Things were getting desperate.

After learning about the needs of the orphanage, our team unloaded the supplies from the back of the truck, including boxes of “meals ready to eat” (MREs) for the children. Each MRE contained protein like chicken, rice, bread, and a little dessert. Nearly 10 crates of water bottles followed, only a temporary solution to their problem. How would they care for all of these children?

What would they do with the weakest children who needed serious medical care?
As we started to leave, the staff crowded around us, shaking our hands and kissing our cheeks gratefully. It was the first time I had seen Charitable smile as she looked at me and said, “Merci, merci beaucoup!”

I put down the little boy that I had held so tightly all afternoon, and I turned to leave. For some reason, I don’t remember what his face looked like, but I remember how sure he was of his longing for affection and how tightly he held onto my neck that afternoon.

The car was silent as we drove through the darkness to the World Vision compound. What will happen to him and the other children? I prayed as we made our way back. I hope that the food and water we provided is enough to nourish them. At least for one more day.