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Manatee residents open hearts to Haiti

MANATEE — The devastation of the massive earthquake has shaken loose the heartstrings and purse strings of the Manatee County community.

Since the disaster struck the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere on Tuesday, and the word was put out about the need for monetary and nonperishable donations, local residents have responded in a big way.

One example of the outpouring of giving was at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus.

“We only put out the word Thursday afternoon and so far we’ve had a really good response just from our staff, students and faculty,” said Chris Manring, director of communications for the university.

Manring said as of Friday afternoon there were enough supplies, such as water, clothing and medical items, to fill two big office cubicles.

“And people are continuing to come in with things,” she said.

Manring said the university will be open today to collect items at the student center, and for the rest of the month as well.

The Salvation Army has seen a similar outpouring.

“We’ve had a very good response from the community,” said Ed Wick, manager of the Salvation Army’s men’s shelter.

“Unfortunately, we are only accepting monetary donations. At the present time we have no way of dispensing goods, such as blankets or clothing.”

Donations flow in

The local American Red Cross was busy all day Friday answering calls and receiving visitors at its 59th Street West offices, said Bobbi Larson, community affairs director.

“With disasters this large, just like the tsunami ... everybody in the community is ready to give,” Larson said. “I think Americans are a very compassionate people who really want to help.”

As of Friday afternoon, she said the national American Red Cross office reported receiving $37 million in donations in support of the international relief effort.

“Locally we’re still trying to calculate the total,” Larson said. “We’ve received thousands.”

She said Thursday’s bank deposit totaled more than $8,000 from people dropping by the office with checks or cash; and that doesn’t even include credit cards or Internet donations.

The students, faculty and staff of State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 5840 26th St. W., also have begun campaigns to raise funds and collect supplies for the Haiti relief effort.

The newly organized Haitian Club 1804 will provide musical entertainment from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Friday at the Performance Pavilion in the campus center

Club president, Jean Caleb Joseph, said the public is invited to come and are asked to help with donations.

Joseph, who came to Untied States three years ago as an international student, said he has heard that his mother and father are safe.

“My father, who is a minister, was out in the countryside (when the earthquake hit),” he said. “My mother was in church in Port-au-Prince at the time, but was not hurt because the building was only slightly damaged.”

Emotional pictures

The tragedy in Haiti flashing across the television screen was very emotional for Frances Sosadeeter, who did community development work in the country in the 1980s.

“I was there two years ago and Haiti was just starting to progress,” Sosadeeter said. “There were purified water systems being developed, which is very important because water was one of the main causes of disease.

“The people had a lot of hope in the government and getting more improvements. Then the hurricanes hit, and now the earthquake.”

Sosadeeter still has a connection with the Caribbean island country.

She is the Latin American coordinator for Parish Twinnings Programs of the Americas, an organization that has linked more than 350 churches in the United States and Latin America with churches in need in Haiti since 1978.

The national office has 59 medical groups with supplies ready to go to Haiti as soon as transportation is available, Sosadeeter said.

Haitian community grateful

The local Haitian community, estimated at about 3,550, is doing its part to help family and friends in the island nation.

At least nine churches with large Haitian memberships have been cooperating in collecting needed relief items and monetary donations.

At the Bethesda Haitian Evangelical Church, 3505 Fifth St. E., Rose Presendieu worked all day Friday with other church members accepting goods and supplies to be shipped to Haiti.

Presendieu, the oldest daughter of the church pastor, the Rev. Jean Claude Presendieu, said the donations have been coming from the community at-large, not just from the Haitian residents.

“People are even going out and buying new items at the store to donate,” she said.

There is a big need for first-aid supplies, such as blankets, mouth wash, which can be used as an antiseptic, Tylenol and other pain relievers, and especially antiseptic wipes, Rose Presendieu said.

The Rev. Presendieu said he was overwhelmed by the response of the community.

“A lot of people called and left messages saying they want to bring stuff,” he said. “We’re really grateful that we’re part of this great community.”

He said all of the goods donated Thursday and Friday have been boxed and are ready to be taken to Venice-based Agape Flights today for delivery to Haiti.

“We have about 20 boxes filled with shoes, food, new T-shirts a store donated, and 20 cases of water,” Presendieu said.

They will continue to collect needed items for the coming weeks.

“This is not about the church, it’s not about Haitians, it’s about everyone in the community,” Presendieu said.

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