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Valley responds to Haiti devastation

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(Courtesy MCT)

In the wake of tragedy, students at the University of Massachusetts have created an alliance called “UMass Haiti Relief” to raise and provide needed support for the country rocked by a magnitude-7 earthquake two weeks ago.

Led by the Haitian American Student Association, the coalition formed quickly and has worked over the past two weeks to raise funds through tabling in the Campus Center concourse and collecting monetary donations.

“As time progresses, people may begin to forget the issues in Haiti and how much help they really need,” said Haitian Student Association (HASA) president Leo Jean-Louis. “The disaster was of epic proportions and Haiti, an already struggling country, will need our help for a long time.”

Haiti’s capital city of Port-au-Prince was devastated on Jan. 12. An estimated 150,000 people died as a result of the natural disaster and millions have been left without homes, food and water.

Participating student organizations included representatives from the National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities, members of the Program for Undergraduate Mentoring and Achievement and the Student Government Association.

These groups joined forces with the Residence Leadership Association, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Byron S. Bullock, Center for Student Development employees Lydia Washington, Lloyd Henley and Allen Brainerd and Auxiliary Services Senior Manager Doug Warka.

In addition, under Jean-Louis’ leadership, the relief alliance has expanded to include members from the Five College community. A “UMass Haiti Relief” Facebook event has over 1,400 members involved in planning upcoming events and fundraisers.

A benefit concert will be held on Thursday, Feb. 11, at the Fine Arts Center. The following day, students are encouraged to wear red or blue to show their support.

In addition, each college will be selling red and blue “Support Haiti” wristbands. A candle light vigil is still being planned. 

According to Jean-Louis, the relief effort has been a success.

“Students have been donating clothes, food and money to support the relief efforts on campus,” he said. “Bins [in Coolidge Hall] are overflowing with clothes as we speak.”

“It’s truly a blessing to see the support and generosity of the UMass Community as a whole,” he added

UMass has set up a bank account that any student group can donate their raised funds towards, said Jean Louis. This has ensured that the correct, secure procedures are taken, and that donation transactions go smoothly.

Pioneer Valley Red Cross                                                 

Within the Pioneer Valley, other organizations have been working diligently to provide necessary help to Haiti.

Paige Thayer of the Pioneer Valley Red Cross said that their Valley chapter has been working to raise funds to support American Red Cross International Response Fund and Haiti Relief Efforts. So far, the chapter has raised $170,000 from the Pioneer Valley community.

In addition to raising money, relief efforts of the Red Cross include “water distribution, first aid, medical assistance, provision of supplies, assistance with shelter and sheltering supplies, distribution of hygiene kits, blankets, water containers,” said Thayer.

The American Red Cross is now partnering with many large humanitarian organizations, she said. These groups include the global Red Cross community, local Haitian Red Cross, the Red Crescent Society and the United Nation’s World Food Program.

Due to the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake, and in addition to the help that Haiti previously needed, Thayer said that the Red Cross will most likely continue to help Haiti for years to come.

Thayer added those that wish to make immediate contributions could text HAITI to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Participants can be certain that their donations will be going to specifically the Haiti Relief program through donor intent.

“If someone designates their gift to Haiti relief, it will be directed to the Haiti Earthquake Relief efforts,” Thayer said.

Jessica Bonheur can be reached at jbonheur@student.umass.edu.

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