The coronavirus pandemic has certainly changed the landscape of the world. Here, in the United States, the daily infection rate continues to climb, despite the best efforts of medical professionals and advanced treatment techniques.
But, in developing countries, the situation is particularly precarious. Haiti, for instance, was on the minds of many in the community as the virus began to spread. At St. William Catholic Church, members of the group Helping Hugs for Haiti are always focuses on their twin parish St. Joseph parish in Côtes-de-Fer, Haiti.
The St. Simons Island-based nonprofit has enjoyed a relationship with the Caribbean congregation since 2008, offering funds and supplies to help support the needs of its members.
As the pandemic was beginning to emerge in Glynn County, Helping Hugs’ secretary Mary Lynch said the virus was also cropping up in Haiti.
“The first case there was reported on the same day — March 19 — as it was in Glynn County,” she said.
Unfortunately, the patient in Haiti, a Protestant Belgian minister, died of the illness. In the days and weeks that followed, the fear and uncertainty that has consumed the globe also engulfed Côtes-de-Fer. Lynch says that a message Helping Hugs received from the parish priest, Father Islaire Faustin, underscored the dire situation.
“Here, in Côtes-de-Fer the situation is still very critical. We are in uncertainty because the government does not do any screening test. We are doing our best to educate the public and inform them of the protective measures to be adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Faustin wrote to the group in April.
Since that time, the case count in Haiti has stabilized, though as Faustin noted, accurate statistics are not necessarily being reported. But now, the parish is facing another — albeit a familiar — foe, famine.
“The biggest problem I face right now is that of hunger. There are needy families. Day by day some families who knew how to meet their needs are asking for help to feed their children. The situation is alarming,” Faustin wrote.
“We are on the verge of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. I trust God will spare his children from this calamity.”
The parish is now experiencing a drought and a lack of access to reliable water sources. And that’s an area where Helping Hugs has historically been able to lend a hand. The organization has spearheaded clean water initiatives there before and are working to continue that effort.
“There’s been drought in Haiti, and as a result, the famers don’t have any crops, the animals are dying ... it’s pretty dire situation. There’s no rain, no jobs, no food and there is high inflation,” Lynch explains.
“We are trying to help with two clean water projects. We’re trying to build another cistern and are looking into investing in drilling wells, which costs between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on how deep they have to go. That’s a lot of money, so we are looking to work with other organizations to be able to stretch our dollars.”
Some of those include charities such Water for Life, Hope for Haiti and Food for the Poor. The latter organization has aided Helping Hugs’ work prior, offering a grant for food distribution in Haiti.
“We received wonderful news from our parent organization (PTPA). Through a donation of $50,000, all twin parishes were offered the opportunity for a matching grant for food — until the money was gone,” Lynch said.
“We hustled and got our donation made in time to be part of the grant. This will help our twin parish considerably.”
In addition to programs designed to fund food and water relief, the organization also provides annual medical missions. Local healthcare providers travel to Haiti to treat those in Côtes-de-Fer who do not have access to regular medical care.
This year, the trip was postponed in early February but was able to be completed later in the month, just prior to America’s lockdown. The medical personnel treated 994 individuals, offering care for everything from broken bones to hypertension.
While providing critical care is Helping Hugs’ primary goal, they also aim to assist the parish’s three schools.
“Our education campaign ended June 30. The direct mail campaign netted $21,460 — 89 percent of our $24,000 goal. We feel great about this,” Lynch said.
St. William also sponsors a musical education program for students. The church hosted an instrument drive earlier in the year, collecting a tuba, trombone and a set of drums.
“All of these items that were requested by Father Faustin. After several postponements, the shipment has been canceled this year because of the complications with the virus,” Lynch said.
That’s not the only part of their mission to be impacted by the virus.
As Helping Hugs members look to the fall, there are many question marks surrounding their vital annual fundraiser, Fête for Haiti.
“Right now, we’re still planning on having the dinner and auction on Oct. 24. But that could change. We really don’t know what form it will take ... we will be making the final decision based on the virus. But, we will do something,” she said.
“Of course, we’re always taking donations through our website — www.helpinghugsinc.org. Every little bit helps.”