Donations from thousands of people in Louisiana are giving new hope to children in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, according to Marie Jo Poux, director of New Orleans-based nonprofit organization Hope for Haitian Children. Poux, a hospice nurse and native of Haiti, returned to Port-au-Prince on March 15 to distribute tons of goods donated to her local charity. She had been providing help to orphanages in Haiti for over a decade before the 2010 earthquake, returning to the country several times a year. Poux was in the Haitian capital on January 12 when the earthquake struck, and spent the next two weeks lending what help she could to the devastated city before returning to New Orleans.
Since the quake, Poux has led a community-wide relief effort in New Orleans, filling four 40-foot-long shipping containers with school materials, clothes, dry goods, cleaning supplies, utensils, small appliances and toiletries, as well as emergency supplies such as tarps, tents and flashlights.
"The needs here are still very great, and the donations are making lives better and showing Haitian children they are not forgotten," Poux said. "At the orphanage, we have had children arrive suffering from malnutrition, and they are doing much, much better now, and they are very happy."
Hundreds of volunteers in New Orleans, including local middle school, high school and college students, worked for weeks after the earthquake boxing donations at the Community Book Center on Bayou Road.
"This is a great cause, and I'd do anything to help Marie and her orphans," says Community Book Center owner Vera Warren-Williams. "The roof of my store almost blew off during Katrina, and then it was flooded by three feet of water, and it took two years to reopen. So I know about dealing with disaster. We were blessed here by thousands of people who came to help afterwards, so now it's time for New Orleans to do its part for Haiti."
In a single week in Port-au-Prince, Poux distributed goods from the first container to two orphanages and to children living in temporary camps. One camp is at the national football stadium and another near Citie Soleil, an impoverished neighborhood in Haiti's capital. Among the items she handed out were "bags of love," donated by students from Metairie Country Day School and from Heart for Haiti, a volunteer group in Baton Rouge. She also distributed hundreds of t-shirts donated by McDonogh 15 Elementary School in the French Quarter.
With the first shipping container emptied, Poux began distributing donations from two more containers that recently arrived. A fourth container remains in New Orleans, while Hope for Haitian Children collects donations to pay for shipping -- about $5,000 per container. Haitian-born hip-hop star Wyclef Jean helped pay to ship the first containers, said Poux, along with hundreds of other donors.
Poux says that while numerous non-governmental organizations are working in Haiti, many areas are not receiving aid. "The orphanages we are working with have received no help from NGOs yet," she says. "Our containers are really helping with food and school supplies. We have been able to set up three classrooms now."
Poux remained in Haiti until mid-April, when she returned to New Orleans to participate in the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as a vendor in the Congo Square Marketplace, where she has brought the work of Haitian artists to Jazz Fest audiences for years.
Bill Sasser is a freelance journalist based in New Orleans.