Area residents, groups do what they can to help Haiti earthquake victims

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PORTLAND — As images of death and destruction continue to stream across the airwaves, local residents are doing what they can to help the people of Haiti, which was devastated by an earthquake on Jan. 12. 

Roughly the size of Maryland, Haiti is the poorest and least developed nation in the Western Hemisphere. Many of the multi-story buildings in the densely populated capital of Port-Au-Prince were built on cinder blocks and were completely destroyed by the quake.

The number of people dead or trapped beneath the rubble is impossible to know, since the dead are being scooped up by bulldozers, loaded into dump trucks and buried in mass graves. Some estimates, however, put the death toll as high as 200,000 with many more people at risk of infection, starvation and dehydration.

For some Mainers, like officials of Portland-based Konbit Sante, help means boarding a plane and providing direct assistance. For others, it’s simply sending a $10 donation to the American Red Cross by text messaging “Haiti” to 90999.

For a group of nearly 50 people at Brian Boru on Monday night, help meant ignoring a snowstorm, buying pints of Shipyard Brewing Co. beer and listening to reggae music by Stream Reggae.

“We’ve been watching this as it develops and this is just a wonderful way to get involved and help,” said Ron Stephens, who drove down from Yarmouth with his wife, Jane, to participate in the fundraiser.

All of the proceeds from Shipyard sales and a collection bucket on Monday night were donated to Free the Kids, a Portland-based non-profit that runs the Hope Village orphanage in Haiti.

The organization, founded by Lewiston native the Rev. Marc Boisvert, provides housing, food and medical care to more than 650 Haitian orphans and is expanding its educational and vocational training for adults.

South Portland resident Elizabeth Holmstrom said she and her husband, Jeff, who is a physician, became interested in Haiti’s plight last fall. They were in the process of planning a working vacation when the earthquake hit.

Holmstrom said they have felt compelled to help anyway they can, primarily by giving money.

“It’s going to be a real challenge for (Free the Kids) to manage,” she said. “We’ve got to get supplies to them.”

Portland resident Rob Morris, a Free the Kids board member, said Hope Village, on 100 acres of land in southern Haiti, only sustained minor damage during the earthquake and no one was injured.

However, Morris noted reports about thousands of people fleeing Haiti’s capital, Port-Au-Prince, the epicenter of the 7.0-magnitude quake, for rural areas in search of help.

“We had no injuries, just a ton of demand,” Morris said. “The kids are coming.”

Brian Boru wasn’t the only area restaurant trying to help out.

On Monday, the Front Room, Grill Room and Corner Room restaurants donated 5 percent of lunch and dinner sales to Partners in Health, a group that brings modern medical care to poor communities in nine countries.

PIH, which has provided medical services in Haiti for more than 20 years, has launched a “Stand With Haiti” fundraising campaign.

Meanwhile, Nate Nickerson, executive director of Konbit Sante, arrived in Cap-Haitien on the north coast of Haiti on Sunday afternoon.

Konbit Sante works with Haitian medical professionals and the Justinian Hospital in Cap-Haitien to improve the health-care system in that country. In addition to medical professional volunteers, engineers also work with Konbit Sante to help with infrastructure issues.

Nickerson planned his visit prior to the earthquake. After the quake, he said he expected critically injured people would be sent to Justinian Hospital for care. By Thursday, Jan. 14, his prediction had become reality.

Cap-Haitien is about 80 miles from Port-au-Prince and Nickerson reported that the United Nations was helicoptering injured people to the city, which was not badly damaged by the earthquake.

Nickerson also said that the 26 Haitian staff members and one American volunteer in Cap-Haitien working for Konbit Sante are safe.

Konbit Sante, which was created in 2000, has set up a relief fund and seeded it with $25,000 Those funds will go toward supporting health needs in Haiti related to the earthquake. Go to to make a contribution.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Kate Bucklin contributed to this report.