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Manatee groups collecting aid for Haiti relief efforts

MANATEE — The Manatee County chapter of the American Red Cross has begun collecting donations to help in the relief effort after Tuesday’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Local officials are awaiting direction from the national organization before committing personnel or other resources.

“We are taking donations to a Haitian relief fund,” said Tracy Vanderneck, financial development director at the local Red Cross chapter. “There’s always a waiting period to determine what help is needed. It makes sense for us to send funds and let the Red Cross from neighboring countries help.”

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday afternoon. The death toll is expected to rise into the thousands, according to Miami Herald reports.

ShelterBox USA, an international aid organization with national headquarters in Lakewood Ranch, has sent 200 relief boxes containing shelter and survival equipment to Haiti. Three response team members have been dispatched to Haiti and will assess the need for more supplies, according to a news release.

“ShelterBox USA is doing everything we can to ensure immediate aid reaches the people of Haiti, but needs help with donations,” said Veronica Brandon Miller, executive director for ShelterBox USA. “Our thoughts go out to people who have been affected by this disaster.”

Donors my call (941) 907-6036 or log on to www.ShelterBoxUSA.org.ShelterBox provisions include a tent and lifesaving equipment, such as tools to remove rubble.

“The primary focus is shelter,” said Leslie Diefenbach Hall, ShelterBox’s communications manager. “The tent holds up to an extended family of 10 people. It is very weather-proof.”

The national American Red Cross has pledged an initial donation of $1 million to aid communities affected by the earthquake, and a relief effort is being staged in neighboring Panama. A disaster management specialist has been sent to Haiti to assess the damage, according to a news release from the Red Cross.

Vanderneck said local chapters rarely send relief personnel to other countries, but the Haitian disaster may be different because it is relatively close to the United States.

Representatives from the Manatee Red Cross chapter will meet with several local churches today to coordinate local relief efforts. The Rev. Peter Greenigge, of Sarasota’s Betheseda Word of Faith Church, is leading the churches’ outreach.

Greenigge called the disaster “very sad” and said a number of his parishioners are concerned about family members in Haiti.

At the state level, the State Emergency Operations Center activated to a Level 2 or Partial Activation in response to the earthquake. Gov. Charlie Crist and state officials are cataloging resources that can be made available for to Haiti, according to a news release.

To make a donation, call the Manatee Red Cross headquarters at (941) 792-8686, visit the office at 2905 59th St. W. or log on to www.flwestcoastredcross.org. Donors may give to an international response fund or specify funds for the Haitian relief effort.

Donors also may text the word “HAITI” to 90999 to give $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

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