Looking out for a ‘twin’

Published 4:08 pm Sunday, August 10, 2008

After months of effort and repacking every box, the collection efforts of St. Jude’s Catholic Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church are about to pay off, and schools in Haiti will soon receive their packages.

In January, St. Jude’s Catholic Church on Clay Street in Franklin decided to “twin” with St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Broad Street in Suffolk in an effort to send school supplies to Belladere, Haiti.

St. Mary’s has been sending supplies down to Haiti since 1996, after the Bishop of almost all of Virginia took a trip to Haiti in the mid-1980s and decided to pair churches in Virginia with schools, orphanages and other organizations in Haiti.

This year, the church, newly paired with St. Jude’s, asked for help from area schools. In return, they received a response that left Mary McDaniel of St. Jude’s Catholic Church “so proud” of Franklin and Suffolk city schools.

McDaniel said the churches asked Franklin, Suffolk and Isle of Wight County schools to place collection boxes for gently used backpacks to send to Haiti in their schools. Both Franklin and Suffolk city schools agreed to place the collection boxes.

“To have the community support like that is awesome,” Frances Bouton of St. Mary’s said.

The group received book bags and supplies from both schools. Suffolk city schools donated 600 notebooks.

“Things that we take for granted—that aren’t even a thought to us—is everyday survival for them,” McDaniel said.

The boxes of supplies that the schools and churches collected, which will be shipped in two to three weeks, include backpacks, chalk and other teaching materials, notebooks, wind-up flashlights and first aid kits, among other things.

They are sent to two schools in Haiti, which have around 400 students of ages up to the early 20s and classes from Kindergarten to 5th grade and Kindergarten through 6th grade, are in a “very, very, very rural area,” said program Chairman Paul Fletcher.

He said that one of the schools can be reached by car and that the other can only be reached by walking or riding a burro—a donkey.

Both schools are housed in a church, and one is trying to relocate to a community house, a building with dirt floors and a palm frond roof, Bouton said. McDaniel added that the group is trying to find ways to help the schools get a “more permanent structure.”

Fletcher said the last time he was down there it took him six hours to drive 40 miles because the roads were “so bad.” He also said he is still getting used to the difference in culture.

“People don’t ask for much, but their culture is entirely different from ours in the way that they respond to it,” he said.

Fletcher remembered one instance where a Haitian asked for medical supplies because the children do not even have bandages for when they fall down. He gave the man the first aid kit that he had taken for the people on the trip.

“The kids win your heart over,” he said.

A group is planning on returning to Haiti in February and March and again in 2010. They are also trying to take two youth group members down on the next trip.

“If you go there and see it and come back, your whole way of life changes,” Fletcher said.

The group continues to collect supplies and to ship them as that becomes possible because as Bouton said, “When you ask the people what they want, they want education.”

The two churches accept donations to help support the students in Haiti. McDaniel said it costs $100 per year to support one student, but that school supplies, peanut butter or other monetary donations are also accepted.

For more information or to donate, contact Mary McDaniel at St. Jude’s Catholic Church at 757-569-9600 or St. Mary’s Catholic Church.