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Local church agrees to take in 100 Haitians

EAST MANATEE — A local minister says his organization has agreed to take in 100 Haitian orphans at a facility off Upper Manatee River Road.

The Rev. Phil Derstine, pastor at Christian Retreat Family Church and Conference Center, says the timing is unclear, but that they are preparing the facility at 1200 Glory Way Blvd.

“We’re getting ready for them now,” he said Monday as he prepared to fly to Haiti this morning.

Most of the orphans are 6 to 18 years old, although some are as young as 3 and as old as 26, he said.

The group is being evacuated after the Jan. 12 earthquake damaged their housing.

“All the children are living outside right now, because the buildings have been damaged,” Derstine said. “They’re camping out and living in containers, 40-foot containers we use to ship supplies down there.

“Understand, these are bone fide orphans, so they’re working on creating an opportunity for people to adopt them as well, in conjunction with the proper agencies,” he added.

Meanwhile, two more Haitian orphans were expected to arrive at SRQ on Monday night to meet parents who had previously arranged to adopt them, officials said.

Another two flown in Sunday night had to be removed from the embrace of newly met parents and transferred temporarily to a group home, according to Jan Bonnema, executive director and co-founder of Children of the Promise, based in the U.S. at Prinsburg, Minn.

Eli and Owen, who escaped death and turmoil in their native land, were taken from their new parents after a bureaucratic snag developed, she said.

“The reason I got: They’re saying because they came in so late, they couldn’t process the parents at this particular airport, and they felt they needed to get children and process everything later,” said Bonnema.

“They took children away from their parents — that is just devastating for parents and the children,” she said.

The children were flown in with help from Agape, the Venice-based mission that uses aircraft to provide mail and cargo support to mission families in the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Agape has made 54 relief flights since the devastating quake, according to its Web site.

The Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice announced Agape Flights and the American National Red Cross would get the first two rounds of donations made to its Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund.

Joseph Pecoraro, a local doctor who just returned from Haiti, said conditions there remained grim, but that he did see the beginnings of progress.

“One of the first kids we took care of was a 7-year-old who had lost his whole family,” he said. “But there was a lot of that, a lot of people not knowing where their families were.”

The huge international response, Pecoraro added, sent “glimmers of hope.”

Sara Kennedy, reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.

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