(lubavitch.com) “Please I am hungry. Please give me something to eat.”
As Rabbi Shimon Pelman returned to his Santo Domingo home late Monday, the cries from Haiti’s streets pierced his ears. Pelman arrived in the earthquake-shattered capital of Port-au-Prince early that morning with the most basic of supplies. Milk, tuna, sardines, pasta, and medicine filled the cavernous truck. A second truck donated by Chabad arrived in Haiti’s capital Tuesday morning, bearing vegetables and fruit.
For the survivors of Haiti’s largest earthquake in two centuries, the bare necessities are in high demand. With infrastructure and roads in disarray, the supplies that have been deployed are just barely reaching their destinations. Since the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, thousands of people have died in the capital’s streets while waiting for medical care, food and water. In what has long been the western hemisphere’s poorest country, locals are now facing a whole new set of challenges.
“When we first arrived on Friday, I went to the UN sick tent,” says Pelman. “They told me that they have no way to help people. There was no medicine. No food. It is terrible what’s happening there.”
Pelman heads Chabad’s Haiti Relief Efforts in conjunction with Rabbi Mendel Zarchi, director of Chabad of the Caribbean. Chabad’s emergency assistance is made possible by donations garnered from concerned individuals throughout the world, via www.chabadhaitirelief.com.
The overall aid work is being orchestrated by the UN, and Pelman is working closely with their representatives to ensure the effectiveness of his deliveries. “The relief is directed towards those in greatest need,” explains Zarchi from his home in Puerto Rico. “Supplies are also being delivered to workers to ensure that they can maintain a continued presence for the victims.”
An exhausted Pelman says that on Monday, provisions were handed out, many people were visited with efforts to “give a little hope,” to the suffering. “The people on the streets were calling us ‘sons of Abraham’ and thanking us for our attention.”
Meanwhile, in Parkland, Florida, two airplanes were being filled with provisions for children in a Haitian orphanage. Jerry Lowenstein has been sponsoring these children for years, visiting monthly with supplies. After visiting Port-au-Prince on Friday, he realized that he could not gather enough goods to meet the children’s current needs. So he turned to Rabbi Shuey Biston and Chabad of Parkland.
Biston sent an email to his community. Within 36 hours, thousands of dollars were raised for Haitian children. Medical supplies, diapers, bandages, food, and first aid kits piled up at the Chabad center. “People want to feel that their hard-earned money will see immediate results,” Biston says. “They know that at 11:20 on Tuesday morning starving children will get to eat.”
Though the rabbi had planned to accompany the mission, only one of the planes received clearance to fly on Wednesday. To make room for an extra 200 pounds of food on board, Biston opted to remain in Florida. He is scheduled to travel to Haiti next Tuesday with additional supplies, as Lowenstein has arranged for weekly landing rights for the foreseeable future.
There is one bright spot on the desolate Haitian horizon. Lowenstein, who has been trying to adopt and bring a young orphan to Florida for the past six years, has finally been granted permission to proceed by the Haitian government. The seven-year old girl will accompany Lowenstein home tomorrow where Biston says she will be “embraced as one of our own.” An additional 13 children will arrive on next week’s flight, adopted by friends of Lowenstein.
For Biston and the members of his South Florida community, helping out is intuitive.
“As human beings we cannot ignore the cries of other humans. And as Jews, we have suffered enough over the years. We know when it is time to respond.”