U.S. Businesses Donate Cash, Food, More To Haiti

Since the earthquake in Haiti, U.S. businesses have been donating tens of millions of dollars to the aid effort. Big companies, non-profits and small mom and pop stores have been pitching in. Besides giving cash, they have been sending volunteers and supplies to crisis centers set up in American cities for people who have family in Haiti.

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Another partnership thats growing with Haiti involves U.S. corporations. Over the past week, businesses across the country have donated tens of millions of dollars in aid. Big companies, nonprofits and small mom and pop stores are all pitching in. businesses are also sending volunteers and supplies to crisis centers here in the U.S. for people who have family in Haiti. NPRs Chris Arnold reports from Boston.

CHRIS ARNOLD: Boston has a very large Haitian immigrant population. And at a resource center set up here by the city, hundreds of people have been coming by to use the phones. Theyre trying to reach loved ones in Haiti and figure out how to help them.

Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)

ARNOLD: Companies of all shapes and sizes have been calling here to offer whatever they can to help. Some of the people coming in don't speak much English, so the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield has been sending employees here who speak Creole to volunteer as translators.

Ms. CATHLEEN JEANTIE(ph): The volunteer outpour has been tremendous.

ARNOLD: Cathleen Jeantie is running the center to that.

Ms. JEANTIE: We've had pizzas donated. Whole Foods has been great in donating food. We're also getting calls from companies willing to donate supplies, medical supplies. Weve had plumbing companies calling and saying, okay, you know, we're ready to go down if, you know, when the time is ready.

Ms. ANTOINETTE SENATU(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

ARNOLD: Antoinette Senatu has just come into the center. She has photographs of an infant, a child and some other family members. It turns out the children's mother was killed in the earthquake and now Senatu's 80-year-old mother is trying to take care of a 4-month-old baby and a toddler in Port-au-Prince, but her house has collapsed and they're living outdoors with hardly any shelter.

Ms. JEANTIE: She was saying that it's a piece of plastic that her grandmother had to put on two sticks to kind of provide some sort of warmth for the children.

Ms. SENATU: (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. JEANTIE: She was running with the kids in hand when this happened so she fell and broke her arm when this happened.

ARNOLD: So not only is she 80 years old and she doesnt have a house, she's got a broken arm as well.

Senatu wants to try to adopt these children who've lost their mother - who was her cousin - but the staff here says that it's still unclear how many desperate children like this will be allowed to come to the U.S., so they say that's another group that's been donating time: lawyers. There's a big need for families to get help navigating the immigration issues.

Ms. JEANTIE: You know, some immigration lawyers have agreed to make themselves available pro bono to be able to talk to people about what their options are.

ARNOLD: Antoinette Senatu says it's been very hard to get through to her mother in Haiti on a cell phone. She has to try again and again and only every few days can she get a connection.

Ms. SENATU: Every day I call. I just try every day.

ARNOLD: To try to help with that, T-Mobile is waiving long distance charges for existing customers to call Haiti through the end of January, and lot's of other big corporations are pledging help. Wal-Mart has donated more than a million dollars. Bank of America's pledged a million dollars.

Gerald McSwiggan is manager of the Disaster Assistance and Recovery Program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Mr. GERALD McSWIGGAN (Manager, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Disaster Assistance and Recovery Program): It's been a week since the earthquake in Haiti and we have seen 203 companies that have donated more than $83 million to the relief effort. And this is one of the fastest outpouring of corporate dollars in an international disaster.

ARNOLD: McSwiggan says many of these companies dont have much of any business interests in Haiti.

Mr. McSWIGGAN: A lot of businesses who are giving dont necessarily have operations there. They dont have markets there. They're giving this because, frankly, its the right thing to do.

ARNOLD: Businesses aren't just donating cash. UPS is helping with free shipping and logistical support on the ground in Haiti. Ken Sternad is president of the UPS Foundation and he says there are starting to be conversations about how to improve the entire Haitian economy when it comes time to rebuild.

Mr. KEN STERNAD (President, UPS Foundation): Maybe rebuild and create something thats better than it ever has been. I mean that's obviously one of the, if not the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. That certainly has been a discussion. I've been party to those discussions.

ARNOLD: But for now, the crisis on the ground, of course, is still overwhelming all the efforts to send aid and the need for more support from the private sector is going to be enormous for years to come.

Chris Arnold, NPR News.

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