Reaching out to survivors of the tsunamis that have killed tens of thousands of people in 11 countries from Thailand to Somalia, workers at Interchurch Medical Assistance Inc. in New Windsor have begun packing medical supplies for a shipment of 75 boxes bound for Sri Lanka, an official with the nonprofit organization said yesterday.
"We know the response will have to be long-term to really provide what they need," said Vickie Johnson, communications director for Interchurch Medical Assistance. "But there has to be an immediate response, too.
"This is our work, this is our whole purpose, to help our brothers and sisters around the world who are hurting," Johnson said.
The medical boxes will include antibiotics, first-aid and wound-care supplies, medicines for respiratory ailments, ointments for skin conditioning to help people exposed to unclean water, and vitamins for people who may be short on food and suffering from an inadequate diet, Johnson said.
She said the boxes, which usually take several days to pack, should be ready for shipment by airfreight within a week. Though the disaster that occurred between two holiday weekends - with many staffers on vacation - presents a logistical complication, she said the group will not be hampered in its efforts to respond.
Ready for more requests
"We'll be moving ahead with this response immediately and processing additional requests if and when they come in," she said.
Johnson said her group had received a call for assistance yesterday from the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, a local partner of one of Interchurch's member groups, Church World Service.
The local partner "would be key in receiving these emergency supplies and assisting with distribution in the country," she said.
Much work remains in assessing the damage from the tsunamis, caused by the largest undersea earthquake in 40 years, to determine the logistics of providing needed assistance.
"Everyone is talking about examining the situation and figuring out the best way to respond," Johnson said. "Our members have all issued information about their emerging response. For instance, Church World Service has an Indonesian office and has been assessing needs in that country. ... They may already be starting to distribute assistance that is locally available."
Once more of that information is available, Johnson said, Interchurch will be poised to send additional assistance.
"We'll begin to determine the best methods of getting aid in," she said. "Then we'll begin processing that information and assisting with emergency medicines and supplies as requested."
In the meantime, the organization is taking inventory of its available medical supplies - some of which are donated to the group - and will buy more as needed for the relief effort, Johnson said.
"I easily envision a $40,000 to $50,000 response just in medicines," she said.
She said supplies will likely be sent by airfreight, an expensive but fast way to supply aid.
Other items needed
In addition to medicines, member groups will likely provide other items such as blankets, shelter, drinking water, chlorine tabs and mosquito nets, Johnson said.
Interchurch Medical Assistance, an association of 12 Protestant relief and development organizations, includes the Church of the Brethren in New Windsor. It is waiting for its member organizations and partners to relay the needs of survivors in some of the hardest hit areas, including Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand, Johnson said.