Students at Arundel High School in Gambrills are working with the Haiti Backpack Youth Campaign to collect and send backpacks to Haiti. (Video by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
Even before Haiti was slammed this past week by Hurricane Matthew, the plight of the Caribbean nation has been on the mind of Caprece Jackson-Garrett.
After Jackson-Garrett, president of the Baltimore-based public relations firm Bonneau Caprece, visited Haiti with her daughters recently, she came away with a mission to gather 500,000 backpacks for schoolchildren — working to address the fact that millions of Haitian children don't attend school because their families can't afford costs associated with it.
Now, after the hurricane that has left hundreds dead, Jackson-Garrett is also collecting clothes, toiletries, disinfectant wipes and hand wash, all certain to be in short supply.
"Maybe by... 'shooting for the moon,' I'll reach the stars and we'll get what we can get," said Jackson-Garrett, a Towson-area resident.
Her project is among outreach efforts under way to help areas affected by Hurricane Matthew. As the storm came through the Caribbean and East Coast of the U.S., local organizations including Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross and others have mobilized to aid affected communities.
Haiti has been the hardest hit. Officials there said Saturday that at least 470 people had died in just one part of the county — many other areas remained inaccessible. The overall death toll was unknown, but the Haitian government has estimated that at least 350,000 people need some kind of assistance.
Officials at Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore say the organization has pledged $5 million in aid to Haiti. Units are delivering blankets, diapers, toothbrushes and other items, and CRS is flying in 5,000 tarps for temporary shelters.
In addition, emergency responders left from Baltimore over the weekend, and engineers have been deployed to assess structural damage to homes, said Catholic Relief Services spokeswoman Kim Pozniak.
"We are just now reaching some ... areas that were hard hit and that were cut off," she said Saturday.
Red Cross International has sent more than 200 people to Haiti to distribute cholera-prevention kits to communities at risk of the water-borne illness, and officials at the Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief were assessing how to help Haitian coffee farmers whose crops were devastated. The hurricane struck during the coffee harvest.
In the U.S., the hurricane was blamed for at least four deaths, all in Florida. It raked Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina with rain and stiff winds, and officials Saturday said that more than 280,000 homes and businesses in coastal Georgia were without power.
The Maryland National Guard deployed a helicopter and aquatic rescue team to South Carolina, and the American Red Cross Greater Chesapeake Region had already sent three emergency-response vehicles loaded with food, toiletries, mops, buckets and bleach, said Lenore Koors, spokeswoman for the chapter in Maryland.
Greater Chesapeake also deployed 21 people to South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, joining some 22,000 disaster workers deployed by Red Cross chapters across the country. The chapters sent a combined 95 supply trucks and 94 trailers, Koors said.
Jackson-Garrett had a leg up in her efforts to help Haiti. She actually launched her backpack effort in August. A social media campaign caught the eye of Jevona Anderson, an elementary school teacher at Furman Templeton Elementary, a charter school in the Upton neighborhood.
Anderson got her students involved, saying, "I want kids to have an understanding of how Haitians rebuilt themselves."
Saran Fossett, executive director of the Aziza/PE&CE youth program at Arundel High School in Anne Arundel County, also got on board, and her students are working to gather items.
The Aziza/PE&CE program develops arts, athletics and mentoring opportunities for children ages 11 to 18, and Fossett said the students are excited to be a part of the campaign. The school at 1001 Annapolis Road, Gambrills, is accepting backpack donations for Haiti from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday this week.
Jackson-Garrett has established other outreach efforts for people to contribute. Elijah's Blessing Community Service Center at 2400 N. Howard St. in Baltimore is accepting donations Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jackson-Garrett said she believes it's important to engage children in the Baltimore area to help others. She hopes the effort "introduces them to an international perspective through the lens of philanthropy, and cultivates their sense of appreciation and gratitude."