Congregations make donations, organize fundraising events, and offer support to local Haitian community.
Unitarian Universalists have contributed almost $1 million to a relief fund created by the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the Unitarian Universalist Association to help victims of the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. As of February 15, the UUSC had processed donations of $988,369, according to Dick Campbell, senior associate for media and public affairs for the UUSC.*
Campbell said the generosity is overwhelming. “This is a very good total,” he said. “We’re quite pleased with the generosity and speed with which Unitarian Universalists have responded. It really motivates us to do the best we can with the money.”
He said that Martha Thompson, the UUSC’s program manager for Rights in Humanitarian Crises, went to Haiti on February 5 on an eight-day assessment mission to determine how the UUSC can best respond to long-term needs. The UUSC is working in partnership with several groups involved in Haiti, including the Papaye Peasant Movement and the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
The Papaye Peasant Movement is helping people leave damaged areas, running a shelter, and providing food to survivors. The Lambi Fund is supporting rural groups that are in turn supporting groups of quake survivors from the city. The UUSC is also working with ActionAid USA to coordinate supplies for two grassroots groups, Platform of Community Organizations of the Port-au-Prince Metropolitan Zone, and Regional Coordination of Southeast Organizations.
The 7.0-magnitude earthquake, centered near Port-au-Prince on January 12 killed at least 212,000 people, injured more than 300,000, and left a million people homeless.
The Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, minister of First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Cohasset, Mass., wrote an op-ed piece in the Cohasset Mariner, encouraging contributions to the UUSC fund and inviting readers to help Haiti in different ways. She wrote, “All of us can find ways to make a positive difference in desperate lives. We can give money. We can go where we’re invited and work with folks ‘on the ground.’. . . . We can advocate for a change of policies and practices at the highest levels of international affairs.”
Carlsson-Bull’s congregation contributed $1,000 to the UUSC and will give a fourth of its non-pledge income to the same fund through August.
The Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Fla., raised more than $7,700 for the UUSC fund with an interfaith, multicultural concert and a Sunday morning collection. The concert had been planned as part of the International Association for Religious Freedom conference in Clearwater to commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The concert brought together Buddhist, Baha'i, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, UU, and Sufi musical groups and percussion ensembles from India, Japan, Africa, the Caribbean, and Tampa Bay, Fla.
“When the earthquake happened we quickly realized we wanted to do something,” said the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, minister at UUs of Clearwater, “so we took up this offering. People were grateful for a chance to contribute.”
A city with close cultural connections to Haiti, and now a shared connection to natural disasters, is New Orleans. The three UU congregations in the New Orleans area—North Shore Unitarian Universalists in Lacombe, First Unitarian Universalist, and Community Church UU in New Orleans—have raised $2,464, said the Rev. Jim VanderWeele, minister of Community Church.
He noted the help that New Orleans received from another UUA-UUSC fund following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “The UUA- UUSC Gulf Coast Relief Fund helped our ruined city begin its path of returning to life . . . for which we are most grateful. Now we want to help the UUSC and UUA with their work in Haiti.”
Haiti and New Orleans have shared cultural and historical ties for 200 years, dating to when several shiploads of 19th-century Haitian refugees fleeing the Caribbean Islands slave revolts relocated to New Orleans.
The UU Congregation of Atlanta raised $7,547 for the UUSC fund. The 23-member First Universalist Church in New Madison, Ohio, contributed $1,250. First Parish Church in Bedford, Mass., raised $3,600. “It is nearly unthinkable that people have to deal with a disaster like this,” the Rev. John Gibbons, First Parish minister, told a local reporter. The UU Congregation in Charleston, W. Va., raised almost $3,000 with a musical benefit.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of East Aurora, N.Y., a congregation of 56, will be donating the entire plate collection for four weeks, said congregation president Jim York.
Campbell said the UUSC has received many calls from people wanting to know how to help after they have given money. He said there are opportunities to help support Haitians in this country as they support their families in Haiti. Clinics are being established in Boston, New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and Atlanta to help Haitians apply for “temporary protected status” through the Department of Homeland Security. “There’s a need not only for attorneys, but help with administrative work, child care, and translators,” said Campbell.
He is also urging people to lobby U.S. leaders to pressure organizations such as the International Monetary Fund to cancel Haiti’s millions of dollars in debts to these groups.
Several congregations made contributions directly to projects in Haiti. The First Unitarian Church in Dallas, Tex., raised more than $13,000, which it sent to the Hôpital Albert Schweitzer in Haiti. First Unitarian has a long-term relationship with the hospital, going back more than 30 years to former members Dr. Duane and Vera Dowell, who spent 10 years living and working at the hospital. Over the years several other members have served there as physicians, trainers, and volunteers. The hospital is 54 miles outside Port-au-Prince and was undamaged.
First Unitarian member Judith Hembree, a physical therapist, has made nine trips to Haiti in the past decade and will go again later this month. She said, “Injured people started pouring into the hospital the day after the earthquake. They’ve pretty well caught up now on the acute rush, but there’s still a tremendous demand for physical therapy and other services.”
The UUs of Coastal Georgia in Brunswick, Ga., co-sponsored a community-wide “Help Haiti Concert” January 30 in Brunswick that featured 12 bands in a six-hour concert. The concert brought in $5,000 that was donated to Medical Assistance Programs International for the delivery of medical supplies to Haiti, said the Rev. Bill Phillips, the congregation’s minister. “We provided 30 volunteers. This event was both a fundraiser for Haiti and a unity event for the city. Our congregation got as much out of the event as we put into it.”
Meg Soens, a seminarian from First Parish in Lexington, Mass., organized about 20 members of the congregation to make 45 small care packages for Haitians who worked in the Lexington area. The packages included a note, baked goods, a bottle of lotion, and a $10 gift card. She delivered them to workers at two hotels and two retirement centers.
“It was a small thing, a little gesture of caring against such a huge backdrop of loss,” said Soens. “I just hope it did provide for some people a little comfort, a little knowledge that some neighbors were thinking about them.”
The UUSC is accepting online donations. To phone in your credit card donation, call 800-766-5236. To donate by check, make it payable to “UUSC/UUA Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund” and mail it to: Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, UUSC/UUA Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund, PO Box 844001, Boston, MA 02284-4001.
Updated 2.15.10: When this story was first published, it reported that more than $600,000 had been contributed to the fund, based on information supplied by the UUSC on February 9. The UUSC provided an updated number over the weekend, which included a large number of donations sent by check. Click here to return to the updated paragraph.
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.