Local help pours in for Haiti

Donations to the local American Red Cross chapter have reached $7,000 and fundraisers are under way in the area.

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In the face of extreme disaster elsewhere, residents here are doing what they do steadfastly, a local official noted.

"Walla Wallans have shown a tremendous amount of generosity as the news of the tragic earthquake in Haiti continues to unfold," said Terry Hackney, executive director of the local American Red Cross.

With scenes of destruction and human loss everywhere on media, many here feel a need to "do something," he said. "People have been walking in our door, calling our office, and donating online to the International Relief Fund."

Donations through the Blue Mountain Chapter have reached more than $7,000 as of Wednesday afternoon, which is likely only a representation of the total amount given from this area as local donors also use the Internet to give, Hackney added.

What he sees as a testament to Walla Walla is the number of first-time donors coming through the door of the chapter office on Park Street.

"They are not the usual faces and they feel a compelling reason to give," he said. "What I want them to know is the money is not being given in vain."

The international arm of the organization is in Haiti for the long haul, Hackney said.

"Some estimates are that the Red Cross will be actively involved helping to rebuild infrastructure for three years or more. Our volunteers from American Red Cross have been working in cooperation with Red Cross units from Turkey, Finland, France, and Norway ... This is truly an international effort."

Like every other relief organization on the ground, the nightmare has been in the logistics, he explained. Getting supplies delivered has to wait until areas have been secured by the government, and just transportation issues have been overwhelming as vehicle attempt to navigate damaged streets.

Good news came later Thursday -- relief crews had reached survivors outside the capital city, and are focused on purifying the water supply, Hackney said.

"It seems really slow, but disasters are always chaos and it takes awhile to get services to the people."

This disaster has perhaps brought some sense of helplessness to potential volunteers, the director said. Those not properly trained cannot be sent to the scene, according to American Red Cross rules.

"People are asking us 'How can I go, how can I get sent there?' but people have to be trained in international response. It's different in that when we send people to another country, we want to make to make sure they have cultural training."

The International Red Cross has a team that enters a situation initially as advisors, then decides what sort of volunteers are needed. In Haiti, that team is working with the Haiti Red Cross, which is the coordinating entity, Hackney said. "We respond to them."

That diminishes not at all the importance of local efforts, he emphasized. "We are continuing to take donations at the chapter. A number of local organizations are doing fundraisers and a lot of people just like to walk in the office, partly because they want to hand you their check."

His office is working to open as many windows as possible for people to donate, he added with a laugh.

"We're like public television, we'll take money over the phone. We'll make it easy as possible for them to donate."

For more information call the Walla Walla office at 509-525-7380, or go to the American Red Cross national site at www.redcross.org or call 1-800-733-2767.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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