By ANDREW HANSEN
It was an ordinary morning on Aug. 14 in Haiti when the earth started to shake. As the shaking intensified, homes and buildings started to collapse, screams for help echoed in the streets, and within minutes, tens of thousands of people’s lives were left in ruins. The 7.2 magnitude earthquake devastated the country. First, in the death toll — more than 2,000. Also, in what the earthquake left behind — rubble, chaos, and hopelessness.
Shelly Sands, a teacher at Marquette Catholic High School in Alton who also runs Missions International, a Highland based nonprofit organization that has been performing missionary work for over 30 years in the Caribbean and Central and Latin Americas, saw the images from Haiti and knew she had to help. Missions International has a “sister parish” program that involves connecting Catholic parishes in Guatemala and Haiti with "sister parishes" in the United States who then provide spiritual and financial assistance to their sister parish. Sands’ home parish, St. Paul in Highland, has a sister parish in Haiti.
“After hearing of the earthquake, I checked on our pastor there, Msgr. Victesse and our sister parish, St. Charles Borromeo (in Haiti),” Sands said. “Haiti has been through so much lately with kidnappings, their president being assassinated, tropical storms, and the earthquake. When his reply was that they were scared and hungry, my heart broke. We had to do something!”
So, Sands put our Catholic faith into action. Sands requested rice meals from the organization Feeding Children Worldwide to have them deliver food to the Knights of Columbus in Highland and Quincy University. Then, on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 246 faith-filled volunteers from schools and parishes in our diocese spent hours packing all the food into boxes. In total, a whopping 18,360 servings of food were packed. From there, a team took the boxes to Hospital Sisters Mission Outreach in Springfield, who then delivered everything to Haiti.
“Working on the Haiti project, I felt like I got closer to God because I was doing what he wants you to do to serve others,” said Isabelle Boudreau, a student at St. Peter School in Quincy.
“It felt very good to do the rice project for those in Haiti affected by the earthquake,” said Sophia Baragree, a student at St. Peter School in Quincy. “Doing something for someone else less fortunate helps us feel closer to God.”
The entire operation, which had to come together quickly due to the dire nature the Haitian people are in, was a testament to putting our faith in action. In all, 156 volunteers worked for six hours packing food supplies in Quincy. Parishes represented included Blessed Sacrament and the Church of St. Peter, both in Quincy; students, teachers, and parents from St. Peter School, Quincy Notre Dame High School, and Quincy University; and volunteers from St. Thomas Parish in Camp Point made the trip.
In Madison County, 90 volunteers worked for three hours packing supplies. Parishes represented included St. Paul in Highland, St. Lawrence in Greenville, St. Jerome in Troy, St. Elizabeth in Marine, St. Gertrude in Grantfork, Mother of Perpetual Help in Maryville, St. Boniface in Edwardsville, Immaculate Conception in Columbia, and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville. Students from St. Paul School in Highland were also part of the action.
Helping the people of the Caribbean is nothing new for these Catholics as most of the parishes involved in this emergency food effort have sister parishes in Haiti and Guatemala they help on a yearly basis already. What was different was the speed involved and the helping response from so many in making this effort happen.
“Packing rice meals is not something Missions International normally does,” Sands said. “If a country is not in crisis mode and we send free food, then the local farmers are hurt. It is important to walk with our brothers and sisters and understand the culture. I knew in my heart that this time the food was needed.”