LAKEWOOD RANCH — Its national headquarters is modestly tucked away in an anonymous corner of Lakewood Ranch, but the disaster relief organization called ShelterBox has a world-wide reach.
The nonprofit organization is aiding quake-wracked Haiti.
It has already sent about 7,000 boxes filled with supplies, or 850,000 pounds of goods, according to volunteer Mark Dyer, 47, a consultant from Elmhurst, Ill., who was in Lakewood Ranch on Tuesday as part of his work with ShelterBox.
“We had to open a warehouse in Miami,” said Dyer.
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Virgin Atlantic airlines volunteered to help ferry ShelterBoxes where they needed to go, DHL shipping company offered “extreme discounts,” and after accepting both offers, Dyer also hired airline charters to whisk aid to the thirsty, starving population of Haiti, he said.
A massive quake decimated Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12.
“Most times, our boxes are the difference between life and death,” said Executive Director Veronica Brandon Miller, 41, of Lakewood Ranch.
Each ShelterBox contains enough supplies to help 10 victims stay alive for up to six months, said Dyer.
Among the items in each box, which costs $1,000 to stock, are a custom-designed, 10-person tent; thermal fleece blankets; water purifying equipment; waterproof ponchos and ground mats; mosquito netting; stove and cooking equipment; tool kit, and even a kids’ activity pack.
The organization’s U.S. arm has only three full-time staffers; but it relies on board members and highly-trained representatives that personally accompany the boxes to their destination in order to ensure against theft or misappropriation, Dyer explained.
“They go get the boxes, and help put up the tents,” said Dyer. “They work with local Rotarians, there are Rotarians pretty much in every country.”
In Haiti, 14 Rotary clubs assisted ShelterBox in getting supplies to the needy, he said. Although ShelterBox is now an independent organization, it began as a Rotary Club project in 2000 in the United Kingdom, said Miller.
A UK Rotarian named Tom Henderson was appalled to see victims of disaster reduced to scuffling for food that was thrown off a truck, said Miller. He thought they should be accorded some dignity in their distress, so he drew up a list of items that people would need to rebuild their lives, the now-iconic items in the big green box, she said.
Henderson asked his Rotary Club, which is a business group, for help.
Since then the organization has helped the suffering victims of 100 disasters in 60 countries, according to its Web site, www.ShelterBoxUSA.org.
In 2002, the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club helped launch the organization in the United States, and that’s why ShelterBox’s national headquarters ended up here, said Miller.
“The Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club has been a strong supporter all these years,” said Laddison Waldo, 65, of Lakewood Ranch, chief financial officer for Easter Seals, and treasurer for the U.S. arm of ShelterBox.
In the last month, he has witnessed an outpouring of generosity for Haiti.
“Our U.S. affiliate has had in the past an annual budget of about $1.2 million in funds raised,” Waldo explained. “This year, our plan was to grow to $1.8 million, but ...the American response to the earthquake in Haiti has been phenomenal.
“I would say in January alone, we brought in $2 million for ShelterBox.”
To donate, call (941) 907-6036, write to 8374 Market St. #203, Lakewood Ranch, Fla. 34202, or consult the Web site www.ShelterBoxUSA.org.