Locals with Hatian roots rally for aid
New Canaan resident William Gregory's political ambitions and candidacy for Congress are known to many locals. What New Canaanites may not know is that as a boy he often kicked a soccer ball through the streets of Haiti.
In high school, Gregory studied in the Haitian port city of Jacmel, now a quake-shattered community outside Port-au-Prince. As of Monday, his myriad attempts to contact old friends at his former school had failed.
"I don't really know how to describe it," Gregory said of last Tuesday's afternoon quake that shattered an already crippled country. "It hasn't been a fun couple of days. ... But instead of sitting around and feeling bad about what was going on, we decided to take action."
Gregory has spent the last week helping to organize three fundraisers for relief efforts in Haiti. Starting at 9 p.m. on Jan. 21, Tequila Mockingbird on Forest Street will host the second in this series of donation drives. All funds collected tonight at the Mexican-themed restaurant and bar will be donated to AmeriCares, a Stamford-based non-profit relief organization founded in 1982 by New Canaan resident Bob Macauley.
The event is sponsored by CT4Haiti, a disaster relief initiative launched by Gregory, AmeriCares and Hip Hop Republicans, an urban-conservative blog headquartered in New York, in an effort to raise funds and awareness to aid the dismantled nation.
"We're trying to get each person to contribute a little bit here and there, and we're aiming to make a cumulative impact," Gregory said.
Pre-addressed donation envelopes will also be distributed, he said.
"It doesn't matter what end of the political spectrum you're on, everyone feels passionate about helping these people," Gregory said.
He continued, "Regardless of age, we would love to see everyone out there [tonight]. The young people are really stepping up and giving what they can and we would love to see that continue."
On the state level, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced on Monday that she has informed U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) that Connecticut's mobile hospital -- one of only a handful in the nation -- can be deployed to assist in the Haitian relief effort upon request. In addition to offering to lend the $8.25 million 100-bed unit, complete with electricity, water, heat and air conditioning, Rell offered the services of the state's 120-member rapid-response Disaster Medical Assistance Team (CT-DMAT) to staff the hospital.
"Our nation is leading one of the largest relief efforts in history and Connecticut stands ready to help in any way possible," Rell said. "Our mobile hospital is designed to provide triage and treatment in the event of a public health disaster and we have well-trained medical disaster specialists who can staff the facility."
And as many New Canaanites tune their attentions to Haiti for the first time, at least one local man's focus has been set on the destitute land for many years.
Retired pediatrician Dr. Tom Flynn has taken bi-annual volunteer trips to Haiti for 16 years. His medical skill and altruism earned him a position as the head of Hôpital Sacré Couer, which, in English, translates as Scared Heart Hospital. For three years he held this title; meanwhile, his volunteer efforts persist.
Located 10 miles from Port-au-Prince, Hôpital Sacré Couer weathered the quake well enough to remain open, Flynn said. Though chimneys toppled and one on-site injury occurred, the damage was sparse enough to allow for the construction of a makeshift hospital annex, comprised of 100 additional beds that are helping to house the injured and homeless, Flynn said.
The day after the earthquake first shook the Hatian earth, forlorn Hatians began arriving at the hospital doors, Flynn said. The following day, helicopters began flying patients in for medical attention, he said. Two fully equipped operating rooms have remained open in the aftermath of the disaster, Flynn said. Amputation, he said, is among the most common procedures that have since been performed.
Last year a military ambulance was donated to Haiti by a collaborative of New Canaan-based individuals, businesses and organizations including Flynn, Karl Chevrolet and New Canaan Auto Body. The ambulance, which fits four patients, is now being used to transport injured Hatians from the epicenter of the disaster to Hôpital Sacré Couer, Flynn said.
Money, he said, is the top tool needed to mend the injured and rebuild the rubble.
"It's almost like the last straw," Flynn said of the earthquake. "It's a terrible thing. It's a devastating thing. [Haiti] was in terrible shape to begin with ... and then this happened. All their progress has been set back completely."