Minnesotans with ties to Haiti are "just heartbroken," scrambling for news

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG, JIM SPENCER and VINCE TUSS , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: January 18, 2010 - 9:27 AM

Minnesota groups with ties to Haiti seek news and ways to help.

Twin Cities groups that work in Haiti were scrambling today to reach their contacts in the earthquake-shattered country, asking for donations but still largely in the dark about what will be needed most in the coming days and weeks.

While telephone service had largely collapsed, e-mails continued to get through, aid representatives said.

"I got an e-mail from our country director, saying he was OK, but we still don't know about the rest of the staff," said Dale Snyder, executive director of Haiti Outreach, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that has been developing water projects there for the past 12 years. "The sun's just come up, so it's going to take time to figure out what we should be doing."

The organization is taking donations at its website: haitioutreach.org

The Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee (www.arcrelief.org) announced today that it will dispatch an emergency response team to Haiti as soon as possible and is soliciting donations for relief. Monte Achenbach, the committee's senior director of programs who has lived and worked in Haiti, will lead the team.

Achenbach said members of the organization's team hope to provide medical assistance, electricity and communications help.

At least four Twin Cities parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota have been working for several years in Haiti, part of the denomination's Episcopal Relief Development organization (er-d.org), which has established a Haiti earthquake relief fund.

"With the hurricanes and landslides, we've built tons of schools and clinics over the years," said the Rev. James Jelinek, bishop of the diocese, who visited Haiti in late 2008.

"Haitians are just amazing people, living in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. But they still have hopefulness, determined to make a go of it no matter what."

The diocese will hold a prayer vigil at St. Mark's Cathedral in Minneapolis at 7 p.m. Thursday, with proceeds from an offering being donated to the diocese in Haiti.

More than 100,000 Haitians are Episcopalians, making the bond doubly strong for his parishioners, Jelinek said.

Members of St. John's Episcopal Church in south Minneapolis were planning a trip to Haiti in April to dedicate a church they've helped build in St. Philippe - St. Jacques, about 10 miles from the earthquake's epicenter.

""It is -- was -- going to be dedicated, but no one knows what's happened to it," said the Rev. Mariann Budde. "The e-mails have been flying and I sent one to the priest down there, but no luck."

The church has had a formal partnership with the parish in Haiti since 2007 and has sponsored mission trips there every six months. "The ties are deep Budde said. "Everyone is just heartbroken and scared for the people we know. But because of our connections, there are going to be a lot of avenues for us to help."

Rochester resident Cindy Maves spent Tuesday night trying to telephone her parents, Dale and Joyce Grabarkiewicz, who work in a compound in Port Au Prince operated by the Sisters of Charity. The Grabarkiewiczs run a Rochester-based group called the Sacred Heart Haiti Mission and have lived part time in Haiti for the past 32 years, their daughter said.

"I got through to them at 6:30 this morning," Maves said Wednesday. "My parents are fine, and the Sisters' compound is fine.

"After the earthquake, they went to the children's home [in the compound] to get all the children out. They keep four to 16 babies per room and they have about six rooms."

The Grabarkiewiczes told their daughter the earthquake destroyed the nearby home of a priest who works in the compound. He was not hurt, but a sense of disbelief and confusion prevailed, according to what the Grabarkiewiczes told Maves.

"They said a lot of people were in shock. They were walking around the streets not knowing what to do."

Patrick Ingersoll, the adoptive son of Minnesotan Al Ingersoll, grew up in Haiti. By Wednesday afternoon, Patrick, 19, had still not been able to contact his birth parents in Haiti, Ingersoll said.

"[Patrick]  thinks they were outside Port Au Prince," Al Ingersoll said.

The elder Ingersoll met Patrick while working with Healing Hands for Haiti, a collective of physical medicine and rehabilitation experts who make and fit prosthetics and orthotics for Haitians.

Lisa Vandyke of Minneapolis flew out of the Haitian capital of Port Au Prince Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. Eastern time. By the time she landed in New York a few hours later, the earthquake had struck.

"My father called to make sure I was OK," said Vandyke, a volunteer with several private relief organizations. "I went to find a bank of television sets. It's utterly devastating. I know the region [that was damaged] pretty well. I get around a lot."

Mark Crea of Feed My Starving Children had heard from some of the main groups working with the nonprofit Christian organization based in Coon Rapids.

"It sounds like a particularly devastating blow," Crea said. "It takes but a sneeze to cause problems in Haiti."

Feed My Starving Children sent 25 million meals to Haiti last year, the most sent to any of the 64 countries where it works. The food is specially designed to help malnourished children.

Crea was in touch with people by phone and e-mail, but "so far, e-mail is working the best."

The group was working on an emergency response plan, which would be guided by the needs of its partners, he added.

"We do a lot in rural centers and hard-to-reach areas, so we'll have to wait to hear how hard they are hit," said Crea, adding that a meeting already was planned in Miami later in the month, but it will have to wait to hear if people from those groups will be able to get out.

Feed My Starving Children had food already arrived in Haiti as well as on its way before the quake hit, so Crea said the group was looking at how best to release and replenish its food. He was planning to post updates for needs, especially for volunteers, on its website, www.fmsc.org.

Jeff Gacek of Healing Haiti, based in White Bear Lake, just got back from Haiti on Saturday. When he learned of the earthquake, he was working to move up his next trip, and he plans to return Feb. 8.

His group is working to build an orphanage, Grace Village in Titanyen, Haiti, with two dormitories as well as a feeding center for street families. The foundation was set and the walls were starting to go up, Gacek said.

"We're not aware of any damage, but we're not hearing everything," Gacek said. The quake was felt in Titanyen and a house collapsed there, he added, but his contacts there were heading back to Port-au-Prince and were in transit by the time the earthquake hit.

Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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