Even in the darkest of times, Father Islaire Faustin is grateful. Over the years, the priest of St. Joseph’s Parish in Cotes-de-Fer, Haiti, has learned to help those he pastors subsist on very little. In the island nation, the basic needs — food, water and shelter — can be fleeting.

In addition to providing spiritual nourishment, the priest also works to help provide these worldly necessities. But he can only do so much on his own. That’s why he’s thankful for his church’s twin parish, St. William on St. Simons Island.

The relationship, which began in 2008, allows the local congregation to offer aid to their Haitian brethren through a nonprofit organization — Helping Hugs for Haiti Inc.

In a recent letter to the organization, Faustin reflected on their impact, noting that their efforts had continued to help him provide food to those in the congregation.

“I’m reminded of these words of a father when he received his food kit. With tears in his eyes, he said, ‘Thank you very much, my father. You do not know what you are doing for us. Since yesterday, we have not tasted anything,’” Faustin wrote. “May the people who help you in this work bless you.”

But that work is far from finished. While Helping Hugs provides assistance with food, water, an annual medical trip and more, their work is ongoing. Mary Lynch, Helping Hugs’ corresponding secretary, says they continue to focus on raising funds to keep the mission going.

“We are currently focusing on building our first well. We are partnering with another nonprofit, Water for Life, to build a well in the community of Mount Blanc,” she said.

“Our share of the well will be from $8,000 to $20,000 depending on the depth of the well. Currently, the people in this community travel an hour to an hour and a half roundtrip to carry water to their homes. Our twin parish has 10 chapel communities — half of them do not have local water.”

Of course, that means Helping Hugs must find a way to raise funds to support the cause. In the past, those have come in the form of fundraisers. Their primary event has been the Fête for Haiti, held in October for the last seven years. The evening would typically include food and fun in the fellowship hall plus a bevy of items offered up at a silent auction.

This year, however, faced with the coronavirus pandemic, the planning committee had to make some tough decisions. Lynch said they brainstormed about what they could do to continue the fundraiser while keeping their supporters safe and healthy.

They decided to scrap the in-person event but planned to keep the dinner, prepared by DeLaney’s on St. Simons, offering curbside pick up for participants. They would also take the auction online.

“Since it is still very important to keep socially distanced and because the diocese is not allowing gatherings, this appeared to be our only option. We were planning to display the auction items in the church hall and have people come into the building to see the items and pick up their dinner, but this was not allowed,” she said.

Instead, the online auction will be available at www.helpinghugsinc.org/auction from Oct. 11 through Oct. 25. Even under the difficult circumstances, Lynch is excited about the variety of pieces they secured.

“Generous retailers, craftsmen, and friends throughout our area have donated items in the following categories: accessories, experiences, food and restaurant, home decor, housewares, jewelry, religious items and toys,” Lynch said.

They are equally proud of the meal. It will, once again, be prepared by Chef Tom Delaney. It will include tropical mixed greens with mango, roasted hazelnuts and vanilla vinaigrette; balsamic braised beef short ribs with vegetables and garlic roasted potatoes; carrot and sweet potato spice cake; and a mini French baguette. Tickets for the dinner are $50 each. Those may be picked up between 5 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at outside of the parish hall. Orders may be placed online at www.helpinghugsinc.org. The deadline for orders is Oct. 19.

While it’s not ideal, the members of Helping Hugs are still holding out hope that their Oct. 24 event will be a success. After all, their brothers and sisters in Haiti are counting on it. Lynch hopes to stress to the community just how vital its role is in the effort.

You make possible a medical mission to our twin parish each year, the operation of three schools, clean water in communities that are prone to cholera, roofs and cement floors in chapels that have had neither. This year, in particular, you have provided food to many people facing famine,” Lynch said.

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