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Rotary Member Details Desperation of Those in Haiti

Caldwell group, Terzako Fur owner continue to spearhead relief efforts.

Sometimes it's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

That's been the case for the Rotary Club of the Caldwells, which has been helping those in Haiti since the earthquake struck back on Jan. 12.

The Caldwell-based group has supplied humanitarian relief to impoverished villages in the Dominican Republic, not far from the border with Haiti, for the past five years.  

Within 48-hours of a devastating magnitude 7.0 earthquake, the Rotary Club was able to use its established base in the region to ship essential goods to the Haitian people.

Now, the group is leading local efforts to provide more relief to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Rotary Club President Kevin Hersh said.

The group is working with Konner Chevrolet, the Ace Hardware store in Caldwell and other area businesses to provide collection points to donate non-perishable goods, including soft toys, lightweight clothing, stuffed animals, sandals and sneakers.

The donated supplies are shipped to colleagues in the Dominican Republic who then transport the goods to people in northern Haiti, refugees in the Dominican Republic and Port-Au-Prince.

In addition to goods, the effort also needs financial support from the community.  Shipping can cost $3,000 to 4,000 a week, even after discounts, Hersh said.

"We don't want to slow it down because we can't ship it," he said of the relief efforts.

Unlike larger agencies with paid personnel, the Rotary Club of the Caldwells is all-volunteer and members, including Hersh, must take time away from their professions to help with the relief efforts, he said.

One Rotary Club member who has spent considerable time on the relief effort is Mike Kambourakis.

Kambourakis, the owner of Terzako Fur, has been traveling to the Dominican Republic, and now northern Haiti, to coordinate delivery of the donated supplies.

"The area is a war zone, it is a forgotten land. The air is filled with flies," Kambourakis reported, according to an e-mail message from Hersh to club members.

Kambourakis and a friend from the Dominican Republic handle logistics, including shipping, security and transportation of the goods. They also use donated money to purchase items for the victims.

Only the United Nations and a Spanish medical team are providing aid to northern Haiti, Hersh said.

Kambourakis described how desperate people for help the people there are.

"The truck was left back some ways because we were mobbed by people that came out from everywhere," the e-mail said. "The people are not violent, they are in great need. They are thankful for the food, water and clothing."

Kambourakis was not immediately available for additional comment.

The efforts of the Caldwell Rotary have attracted support from outside the borough with donations from Presbyterian Hospital in New York and help from Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Newark South Ward Councilman Oscar S. James II.

Presbyterian Hospital donated 3,100 pounds of canned food collected at different hospital sites to the Caldwell Rotary, hospital spokesman Bryan Dotson said.

The hospital chose to give the food to the Caldwell group because it provided the best way to offer direct aid to the earthquake victims, Doston said.

Booker and James, working with shipping company Maersk, are coordinating with Rotary clubs in Caldwell and Livingston to collect supplies.

Last week, students from Livingston High School helped Livingston Sunrise Rotary to Konner Chevrolet for shipping.

The Maplewood Rotary and medical supply company Biomet are donating 100 pairs of crutches, Hersh said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Rotary Club of the . Tax-deductable donation checks can be made out to: RCC Endowment, P.O. Box 98, Caldwell, New Jersey, 07006. 

Although much public attention has been given to earthquake relief, Hersh said his group has not forgotten about Essex County-area residents who are struggling.

"I believe in this town and I believe in this community," he said.

Hersh asked the group's service chairman to contact local food pantries and community center to see if they needed any assistance. Any food that cannot be easily shipped for Haiti relief will be handed over to local food banks, he said.

"We were there before the earthquake," he said, "we are there now and will be will there after the crisis."

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