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Mayor: Portland rises to the challenge of aid for Haiti

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Mayor: Portland rises to the challenge of aid for Haiti

PORTLAND — Mayor Nicholas Mavodones Jr. last week encouraged all residents to do whatever they could to help victims of the earthquake that hit Haiti on Jan. 14.

People apparently took the message to heart.

On Jan. 21, city officials partnered with WGME and the School Department to host a 90-minute "From ME to Haiti" telethon to raise money for the Portland-based Konbit Sante, which supports health and medical programs as well as other public health projects in the northern part of the country.

More than 850 residents and businesses pledged more than $69,000 for Konbit Sante's Earthquake Response Fund, which was started with a $25,000 donation from the organization. It has now raised more than $141,000.

Mavodones said he is thrilled by the outpouring of support during the telethon, which received graphic design and production help from students at the Portland Arts and Technology High School's new media program.

"I think people have been incredibly generous," Mavodones said. "I know people were calling after the phones closed."

On Feb. 12, a concert featuring Phantom Buffalo and Darien Brahms will be held at Space Gallery at 538 Congress St. to benefit Partners in Health, a group that brings modern medical care to poor communities in nine countries, including Haiti. 

In Portland schools, teachers across the district are using the Haiti disaster as a teachable moment for their students.

Sarah Martin's class of English Language Learners at Lincoln Middle School recently launched a "Hearts for Haiti" campaign. Students cut out 400 paper hearts they are selling for 50 cents each.

Martins said students are encouraged to either write a note to earthquake survivors or to express their feelings on the paper hearts, which will be displayed in the school cafeteria.

The tragedy hit close to home for one seventh-grade Haitian student, who still has relatives in her native country. Martins said the outpouring of support the student has received from her 15 ELL classmates, who hail from nine different countries, brings her to tears.

"I'm just in awe of them and amazed by them," Martins said. "They are really putting their heart and soul into this project."

While it will take more than selling paper hearts to make an impact in Haiti, Martins said her students are motivated because they feel like they are at least trying to do something positive.

"It's hard," Martins said. "You want to do something. You want to get on a plane and go and help, but you can't. This is the next best thing."

The class has already received two private donations totalling $150, she said. The students will soon decide what charity the money will be donated to.

Meanwhile, students at Hall Elementary School have launched a "Coins for Caring" fundraiser to benefit Konbit Sante, while students at Longfellow Elementary School are raising funds for the group in addition to learning about Haitian culture, natural disasters and ways people can help.

First- and fourth-grade students at Riverton Elementary School are collecting coins and bills to benefit Save the Children, and students enrolled in the PATHS Early Childhood Education Class are selling bottles of water to raise money for UNICEF, the agency responsible for clear water and sanitation in the relief effort.

"People have really risen to the occasion," Mavodones said. "Whether it's kindergartners raising pennies or whether it's individuals reaching deep into their pockets in these difficult economic times, it's just been quite an outpouring of support."

The extent of the natural disaster in Haiti has not been lost on animal lovers either.

The Planet Dog Foundation is holding a fundraising program through Feb. 8 to make an emergency donation to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Donations of up to $1,500 will be matched by Planet Dog to help support the life-saving dogs in the Haiti rescue effort.

Donations may be made in person at the Planet Dog Company Store at 211 Marginal Way, or by filling out a donation form at PlanetDogFoundation.org and mailed to PDF, 49 York St., Portland, ME 04101.

The IRS announced this week that all cash donations made between Jan. 11 and March 1 may be claimed as tax deductions on the donors 2009 tax forms.

Although Mavodones said he is impressed with the local outpouring of support, he hopes efforts will continue in the weeks ahead.

"Hopefully, as time goes on, people will continue to think of ways they can try to get donations to go to the (relief) program," he said. "People have really risen to the occasion."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net