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Haitian relief efforts under way in Lee County

By Staff | Jan 16, 2010

Local residents can aid earthquake relief efforts in Haiti by donating to organizations and businesses that have set up support funds.
As many as 3 million people may have been affected by the magnitude 7.0 quake that shook the country Tuesday night, according to reports from the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. The earthquake damaged much of Haiti’s infrastructure, housing and commercial buildings, injured many and is reported to have killed 45,000 to 50,000 people.
“The most effective way to make a difference in the situation is a financial donation,” said Colin Downey, communications coordinator for the Lee County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Maj. Ann Penhale, corp officer for The Salvation Army of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties, agreed.
“It’s a lot easier for us to get items to them with the financial help,” she said.
People can make an unrestricted donation to the International Response Fund at: www.redcross.org or by calling (800) RED-CROSS (733-2767). Through an effort backed by the U.S. State Department, texting “Haiti” to 90999 sends a $10 donation to the American Red Cross.
According to Downey, the texting option is “very popular.” As of 1 p.m. Thursday, more than $3 million in donations had been collected from texting alone. The American Red Cross plans to keep the texting option active for as long as there is a need for relief support.
“This is obviously a situation that’s going to be an extended operation,” he said. “So we’ll be asking the public to help out in this situation as long as there’s a need.”
To donate through The Salvation Army, visit online at: salvationarmyusa.org or stop by one of two drop-off locations. Penhale said people should write on their check that it is for the Haiti Earthquake Relief, and 100 percent of the funds will go toward the effort. About $186,000 alone had been collected online as of Thursday.
“When they give that money, it doesn’t stay here locally. They can give it to us here locally, but all of it will go on to the earthquake relief,” she said.
“That can range from getting personnel to Haiti and the purchase of resources for the relief there as well,” Penhale added. “This is going to be a long-term investment.”
People also can donate to the American Red Cross in person by stopping by the Fort Myers office. Downey said donors should note on their check that it is for the earthquake relief effort in Haiti.
Publix Super Markets and Sweetbay Supermarket are also giving the public a chance to support relief efforts by accepting donations at store registers. According to prepared statements, Publix customers can donate any amount by adding it to their grocery total when checking out. Sweetbay shoppers are encouraged to make a cash donation at the register, which the company will match up to $50,000.
All funds collected will be directed to the American Red Cross for the relief effort in Haiti. Sweetbay’s program is scheduled to run through Friday, Jan. 31, while Publix’s campaign will continue as long as there is customer participation.
“We have a culture at Publix of giving back, and there’s no better time to give back than when people need it,” Shannon Patten, media and community relations manager for Publix Super Markets Inc., said. “And this is a time when people need it.”
Only the Publix stores in Florida, which consists of more than 750 locations, are participating in the program. According to Patten, more than $100,000 had been collected as of Thursday afternoon, exceeding the expectations of company officials.
“We have very generous customers in Southwest Florida,” she said.
“A lot of our associates have family in Haiti and a lot of our customers have family in Haiti,” Patton added. “The outpouring of generosity has been unbelievable and we are so thankful.”
She said the program is quick and convenient and donors get to decide how much they want to give. There is no minimum nor maximum donation limit.
“We’re going to keep this register program up and running as long as the customer response is there,” Patton said. “When customers stop donating, we’ll stop the program.”
As of Thursday afternoon, the American Red Cross had contributed $10 million from the International Response Fund to support relief operations and The Salvation Army’s World Service Office, based in Virginia, had committed $50,000. Publix Super Markets Charities had donated $100,000, according to the prepared statements.
“A country that’s already so impoverished and so needy,” Penhale said. “I can’t even imagine what this type of devastation will do to this country and these people who are already living so far below poverty level.”
The Lee County Chapter of the American Red Cross is located at 6310 Techster Blvd., Suite 7, Fort Myers. The drop-off locations for The Salvation Army of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties are at 10291 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers, and 2400 Edison Ave., Fort Myers.