Help for Haiti

Church groups, businesses pitch in

By LaReeca Rucker

To avoid being lynched, he was placed in a piano box coffin and rolled out of town by a horse-drawn wagon.

The connection they weaved with Haiti began with a basket. In 1984, Doug and Susan Williams vacationed in Jamaica and spotted a handmade basket in the Ocho Rios straw market. That basket sparked an idea that later led them to create the wholesale company Country Originals.

Today, the business is called Kalalou. And from their Jackson warehouse, the Clinton residents sell more than 1,500 products to gift shops nationwide that are manufactured in several countries, including Haiti.

"We started doing business in Haiti 20 years ago because Jamaica could not keep up with the design of a particular (watermelon) basket," said Susan Williams.

Before the recent 7.0 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000 people earlier this month, around 200 Haitians made Kalalou products in Port-au-Prince. Now the Williamses are helping with relief efforts.

"All of our employees were safe," said Susan Williams, "but their houses were not. It's total devastation."

Through their charity, Doug and Susan's Kids Foundation, the Williamses have for the past 15 years donated all monthly proceeds earned from the sale of a decorative cross to a Port-au-Prince medical clinic. They haven't heard from the nun who operates the clinic since the earthquake.

Through their foundation, the Williamses are now working to pack 200 boxes with household essentials to ship to Haiti.

"We didn't go out looking to create charities," said Susan Williams, whose foundation also supports charities in Honduras, Columbia and Jackson. "These situations just presented themselves to us as we did business.

"We couldn't turn our back on the special needs that showed up in front of us, and here is something that has shown up in front of the world. You shouldn't turn your back on it. It's the higher power calling you to do something."

Mississippi's religious community is also helping Haiti. Last July, Clinton's Dayspring Church took a group to Brooklyn to help a Haitian community with construction projects. They plan to travel to Haiti this summer to help rebuild. The church raised $600 last Sunday during a bake sale to help fund a Haiti
water project.

"We will start raising money soon to send as many of us to Haiti to help as possible," said Dacia Amis, church leader.

Starkville's New Horizons Christian Fellowship took a team of volunteers there this week.

Wells Memorial United Methodist Church members are donating to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.

Jackson's Unitarian Universalist Church gave its entire Sunday collection to relief efforts. Southaven's Goodman Oaks Church of Christ will collect money Jan. 31 to help.

Members of St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral plan to partner with St. James Episcopal Church to lead several construction and medical teams on behalf of the Mississippi Episcopal Diocese.

Brandon's New Vision Fellowship Church, a non-denominational Christian Ministry, partnered with Master's Touch Ministries, Global Inc., and collected funds to support an orphanage and widow's home.

Grace Covenant Baptist Church of Columbus will be sending money to Haiti through a network of reformed Baptist churches there.

"We are thankful that a relatively small congregation such as ours can still assist those in need in Haiti," said the Rev. Sammy Burns.

Word of Faith Christian Center collected donations that will be funneled through Billy Graham's international ministry, which already has a presence in Haiti.

Ridgeland's Highland Colony Baptist Church is encouraging members to send donations through the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board.

"Mississippi Baptists have a great disaster response team that will partner with others to get aid to Haiti," said the Rev. Jay Richardson.

Tony Martin, associate editor of The Baptist Record, said the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board is encouraging churches to visits Web site at .

"They can give directly through that," Martin said, adding that money is the best donation now. "The money we collect goes to one of our agencies of the International Mission Board. Every penny goes directly to the relief cause."

Bishop Joseph Latino has asked all parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Jackson to take up a special collection this weekend for relief work in Haiti done by Catholic Relief Services.

The Eighth Episcopal District Family of the African Methodist Church has taken up a collection for Haiti victims.

International Disaster Response of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America increased its initial financial commitment to support relief efforts in Haiti to $600,000.

These are just a few examples of Mississippi's religious community reaching out. Colleges are also helping Haiti.

Mississippi College is partnering with the International Mission Board to provide necessities for survivors.

Millsaps' Campus Ministry Team will set up a table outside the cafeteria from noon to 1 p.m. this week to help World Vision, a Christian-based organization that has been in Haiti since the 1950s.

Belhaven students are working with a foundation that once supported an orphanage, school, bakery, clinic and church. Everything was destroyed except the church. To donate, contact the respective colleges and churches.

The Salvation Army is working with corporate partners and vendors to send necessities.

Mark Jones, divisional public relations director, said Tuesday that no Mississippi Salvation Army workers have been deployed, but they are working to raise awareness.

Lt. Col. Dan Starrett, executive director of The Salvation Army's World Services office, called the efforts "a race against time to get people the food, water and shelter they need just to survive.

"The American public has stepped up in a big way to support the people of Haiti, and we want to thank everyone for their generosity," he said. "We have been awed by the number of people calling and reaching out to us wanting to help, and we are praying for all those who are suffering."