The American Red Cross donated $100 million Wednesday afternoon to help relief efforts in Haiti, devastated by Tuesday's powerful earthquake. The local chapter of the nonprofit organization is accepting donations that can be funneled directly to the Caribbean country.
Other faith-based and humanitarian groups are launching similar efforts.
"It's so raw right now. It's hard to get a handle on the needs," said Rebecca Ciszek, executive director of the Red Cross' Modesto chapter. "It's very, very tragic. As the hours go on, it's getting more so."
Financial donations are the most critical need, she said.
"Whether it's getting human resources there or investing in the food and medical materials people need, that all takes cash reserves," she said.
If people have family members in Haiti and can't get in touch with them, the agency can help with that, too, Ciszek said. They can go to the International Family Welfare Web site at www.icrc.org/familylinks. If they don't have access to a computer, they can go to the Red Cross office.
There is no need for donations of blankets or clothing, Ciszek said. For one thing, the local agency has no way to store and ship them; they will be purchased and shipped by the national relief office.
Volunteers may be needed in the future, she added. International disaster relief volunteers first must go through training; a session is scheduled for Jan. 23 at the Red Cross office. Background checks and some online classes in topics such as the safe handling of food also are required.
But the first wave of Red Cross volunteers has come from trained relief workers. They are sent in 21-day deployment teams; a national call for more workers could come after that.
"We're one day into this," Ciszek said. "Three weeks, four weeks into this, the folks on the ground are going to need to be relieved. Right now, we're in the relief stage; eventually, we'll be in the recovery phase. This is going to be a fairly long effort."
Dick Hagerty, who serves on the board of Modesto-based LifeWind International and the national Salvation Army board, spoke to The Bee from Phoenix on Wednesday.
At one time, Hagerty went to Haiti about twice a year for faith-based mission projects. He hasn't been there recently, but the poverty-ridden country doesn't seem to change, he said.
"I can't imagine (the devastation)," he said. "I saw the pictures of the presidential palace collapse. It just looks awful."
Haiti, he said, is a place where people didn't have much to begin with.
"It's hot and humid and it smells bad and there's a lot of anger and envious animosity on the streets. It's just palpable," he said. "They live in horrible conditions. It doesn't matter if their homes are upscale or downscale, it's horrible, with open sewers running through them.
"Physically, it's impossible; it's hopeless. But there's a spirit of hope there, especially in the Christian community. People make do. They live with what they're dealt with. It's a contrast."
"You think nothing can make it worse there. And then this (earthquake) comes," he said. "Three million people completely dispossessed. Piles of bodies in the roads."
He urged people who want to help to choose "really legitimate organizations (such as) World Concern, World Vision, Samaritan's Purse. The Salvation Army is big in Haiti. There's no better way to waste money than to send it to the wrong place. Organizations can send the wrong kind of blankets or the wrong kind of food somewhere. Be sure you send your money to a good (agency)."
As far as LifeWind goes, Hagerty said a conference call Wednesday afternoon revealed that no one had heard from their volunteers on the ground.
"That's worrying," he said.
LifeWind isn't in the business of initial relief, but instead focuses on restoration and rebuilding villages, such as restoring sanitation and clean water.
"Putting hope back is what we're doing more than anything," he said.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.