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Bay Area groups helping in Haiti relief efforts

Web sites for donating given by local Red Cross, other charities

The founder of a Berkeley-based foundation that has provided food to children in Haiti for the past decade is helping to organize relief efforts for victims of a 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck just outside Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.

Margaret Trost, founder of the What If? Foundation, said a program liaison is flying to Haiti today with a group from the Illinois-based Zakat Foundation with a cargo of food, water and health supplies.

Since 2000, the What If? Foundation has provided meals to impoverished children and adults at St. Clare's Church in Port-au-Prince. As of this month, the foundation was providing up to 1,500 meals per day.

Port-au-Prince, the country's capital, was devastated by the earthquake and its aftershocks. Numerous buildings collapsed and the number of deaths is estimated to be at least in the tens of thousands.

Trost said this morning she had just learned that the coordinator of the foundation's food program in Port-au-Prince had survived, but she did not know the status of many of the program's assistants and recipients.

She said media footage of the devastation is hard to watch.

"Part of me doesn't even want to watch, I just want to have hope that the people we work with are alive and buildings are still standing, but I've seen enough to know the damage is catastrophic," Trost said.

Trost said the infrastructure in Port-au-Prince was already weak before the quake.

"We're talking about cinderblock homes without a foundation, that are kind of pieced together with granular concrete by hand," she said. "These homes were very fragile."

Trost said that one of the more startling images she saw was of the presidential palace, which collapsed in the earthquake.

"When you think about the palace, which I'm sure was built solidly, and compare it to all those people in those homes, I just think about all the children, and if they're alive," she said.

Other nonprofits in the Bay Area are also working to assist in relief efforts and hoping to get supplies to the victims of the earthquake.

Michelle Lacourciere, director of the Sirona Cares Foundation, said she is gathering clothing, shoes and medical supplies that she hopes to send to Haiti on a Coast Guard vessel.

Lacourciere said she has talked to Coast Guard officials about sending the supplies "as soon as we can, but (they're) so tied up in search and rescue right now."

Sirona Cares, the nonprofit organization associated with Sirona Fuels, a San Francisco-based biofuel company, has spent the past year working in Haiti, according to Lacourciere.

She said the company originally went to work in Haiti on a biofuel farming project. After seeing the poor living conditions of the majority of the country's residents, the project expanded to include both economic development and social support for the community.

The earthquake affected Grand Goave, a city just west of Port-au-Prince where one of the foundation's projects, a trilingual library at a school, was located.

Lacourciere said the school, which housed 32 orphans, was destroyed by the quake, and one of the school's teachers was killed.

Another group the foundation works with in Port-au-Prince appeared to have fared just as bad, but Lacourciere said communication in the capital was mostly nonexistent because of a lack of electricity.

Lacourciere said there's not much for survivors to do "but sit outside and care for wounded people."

Along with financial donations, the foundation is seeking summer clothing, including underwear, for all ages. Shoes, towels, sheets, and medical supplies such as gauze and take are also needed.

The monetary cost of the earthquake is likely in the range of billions of dollars, said Kate Stillwell of Eqecat, an Oakland-based risk-modeling firm that estimates damage caused by catastrophes. That estimate includes both the physical damage to the country and its infrastructure, and the cost of aid for all the people displaced and wounded, she said.

However, Stillwell pointed out that the estimate could change because much remains unknown about the quake's aftermath, including how many buildings were damaged and how many people were affected.

To donate to the What If? Foundation, visit its Web site at http://whatiffoundation.org/donate. To donate to the Sirona Cares Foundation, visit www.sironacaresblog.com.

The American Red Cross is accepting donations by phone at (800) RED-CROSS, or (800) 733-2767, and through its Web site at www.redcross.org.

Donors can also send a $10 donation to the Red Cross by texting "Haiti" to 90999.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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