January 14, 2010
In the aftershock, Haiti donations roll in
Phones at the ELCA churchwide office are ringing off the hook. Earlier, a woman called into the ELCA's toll-free number and donated $1,000.
“She told us that was her one-month salary, but that the people in Haiti needed it more than she did,” said Eliza Alvarez, ELCA Resource Information. Alvarez, one of many staff receiving gifts and questions, hears many such stories after large-scale disasters. “People just want to help, to give,” she said.
Congregations and individuals began calling soon after the news that a Jan. 12 earthquake had struck Haiti. Their gifts come at the same time as the church’s announcement that it has sent $250,000 for immediate aid, with $500,000 more to follow.
"Many congregations are requesting the new [Haiti] bulletin insert to put in Sunday bulletins," Alvarez said. By 9 a.m., Alvarez had already been in the office a couple of hours, but hadn't yet been able to retrieve all of the voice-mail messages from donors and prayers. There were just too many calls coming in.
ELCA Communications, Information Technology, Development Services and other staff worked late posting and updating Haiti emergency appeal web pages, sending out electronic disaster alerts and readying online giving software for the Haiti appeal.
"The earthquake changed everything," said Mary Short, Information Technology. "Yesterday morning, we'd actually scheduled an update to the servers, but this took precedence."
"Ninety percent of our calls relate to aid for Haiti," Alvarez said. Some callers have asked about volunteering as part of a church effort, but Alvarez and others are cautioning them to wait.
"We are not collecting any clothing or [material donations]. We are not organizing volunteers to go to Haiti at this time. The most helpful thing is for us to wait for more information from those who are responding on the ground," said Raquel Rodriguez, director for Latin America and the Caribbean, ELCA Global Mission. ELCA partners on the ground include Action By Churches Together, Church World Service and Lutheran World Federation, she said.
"Right now, we are stressing financial gifts to ELCA Disaster Response," Rodriguez said. "Earmark your check for Haiti. We will send everything to Haiti; 100 percent. We won't keep anything for administration."
Rodriguez said ELCA donors can also feel good about the way Lutherans coordinate disaster relief efforts. "In this situation, where the infrastructure has collapsed entirely, we work to assist and not hinder efforts," she said.
Rodriguez said Lutheran World Federation staff in Haiti had reported "no major health care issues, although some have lost their homes." ELCA Presiding Bishop Hanson also gave thanks in a Jan. 13 message that LWF staff escaped injury.
Communication efforts are a struggle, Rodriguez said, because of the lack of electricity and phone service, but Global Mission was able to contact the LWF representative in Haiti through Skype. To further information-sharing, Rodriguez said staff are providing also information to ELCA congregations known to have relationships in Haiti outside of synod or churchwide efforts.
ELCA members can contribute gifts online or call 800-638-3522.