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Manatee mobilizes to help Haiti

MANATEE — Charitable organizations throughout Manatee County began accepting donations and prepared to mobilize Wednesday as members of the local Haitian community tried, often in vain, to contact loved ones in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake.

Officials at local chapters of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities awaited word from national headquarters about what help they can provide, even as donations began pouring in. ShelterBox USA swiftly mailed off 200 boxes of supplies early Wednesday.

Tracy Vanderneck, the financial development director at the local Red Cross chapter, said her organization received a steady stream of walk-in and telephone donations Wednesday.

“It has been a great response,” she said. “People are really wanting to help the people of Haiti.”

Meanwhile, Haitians frantically phoned and sent e-mails in an effort to find out the fates of relatives and friends.

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota mathematics Professor David Pierre tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with three sisters and a brother in Haiti. They live near the Port-au-Prince airport and in Delmas, a suburb of the capital city, he said.

“I have a terrible headache now,” Pierre said Wednesday afternoon as he listened to the one Haitian radio station he found still broadcasting on the Internet. “The fact you can’t get in touch with anyone is killing me.

“I was thinking of leaving here and going to Haiti, but I know I won’t be able to do anything to help.”

Pierre, who has lived in the United States since 1999, is the faculty adviser for SCF’s Haitian Club. He plans to convene a meeting as soon as possible to discuss what students can do to help. Many of the club’s members have family in Haiti.

Congregants of Church of the Cross in Bradenton spent Wednesday praying for Patrick and Barb Lataillade, missionaries the church has supported for about 15 years.

The Rev. Stan Pavkovich said the Lataillades’ home in Port-au-Prince collapsed Tuesday. Both were rescued from the rubble, but doctors were struggling to stop Barb’s bleeding early Wednesday evening. The Lataillades lived in Bradenton briefly and attended Church of the Cross before moving to Haiti, Pavkovich said.

“The first thing I did this morning was Facebook them,” said Pavkovich, who said he learned of their rescue from Internet reports and a Haitian pastor he knows. “It was mind-boggling. I’m still processing it, just like everyone else.”

The United States vowed to help Haiti with a massive rescue and humanitarian effort. U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said the aid is necessary both for Haitians and their relatives who live here.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Haiti — and with many of my constituents who have family and friends there,” Buchanan said. “I will support the administration’s efforts to ensure that federal assistance is available to support vital rescue and relief efforts.”

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. Six disaster management specialists have been sent to Haiti to assess the damage, according to a news release from the Red Cross.

Representatives from the Manatee Red Cross chapter are meeting with representatives of local services to coordinate relief efforts. The Rev. Jean Claude Presendieu of Bradenton’s Betheseda Haitian Evangelical Church, is leading the churches’ outreach.

Hope Seeds, a local nonprofit that provides seeds to underdeveloped countries, sends monthly shipments to missionaries in Haiti. Mike Mueller, head of the organization, said he was trying Wednesday to e-mail missionaries but hadn’t received a response from anyone.

Catholic Charities has begun collecting donations and plans to deploy members of its disaster relief team after an assessment of the situation, said public relations Director Judy Bokorney.

“It’s pretty early in the game to figure out what can be done,” she said.

ShelterBox USA, an international aid organization with national headquarters in Lakewood Ranch, already 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,” said Veronica Brandon Miller, executive director for ShelterBox USA. “Our thoughts go out to people who have been affected by this disaster.”

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.”

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