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Haiti's plight moves hearts, hands across North Pinellas

The Rev. Joe Diaz of Clearwater was in Haiti last week. TV, he says, does not accurately show the depth of the devastation.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

The Rev. Joe Diaz of Clearwater was in Haiti last week. TV, he says, does not accurately show the depth of the devastation.

The Rev. Joe Diaz arrived in Haiti a week ago, three days after a magnitude 7 earthquake crippled the Caribbean nation and killed an estimated 200,000 people.

He'd seen the televised images of children covered in gunk, of people with missing or broken limbs, of corpses piled along rubble-filled streets.

None of it prepared Diaz, the rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Clearwater, for the moment he saw the devastation with his own eyes.

"No matter what you see on TV," he said, "it doesn't begin to deal with the depth of the devastation.

"Visualize these Armageddon movies. It's absolute rubble everywhere. People walking around in a semi-catatonic state. Just walking. Eyes glazed over. Walking with no particular thing in mind."

The largest earthquake to strike Haiti in 200 years has driven people across North Pinellas to action. There's Diaz, who brought food, water, medical supplies and prayers; the Safety Harbor commissioner who challenged the city to band together and help Haiti rebuild; and the waiters at a Dunedin restaurant who will donate 100 percent of their Saturday earnings — tips included — to the American Red Cross' relief efforts.

The idea for the latter came to Heather Bruno early one morning. She'd just wrapped up her shift at the Living Room on Main, where she is a server, and was tuning into television coverage of the earthquake and its aftermath.

"For me," she said, "it was seeing the children's faces, those babies not having anyone to take care of them."

Bruno is a mother. She thought about her own 12-year-old son. "You're a member of the human race," she said. "You have to do something to help mankind."

She called the restaurant's general manager. "I was just going to talk to you," Sarah Johnson told Bruno.

They decided to hold a fundraiser on one of their busiest nights. They settled on a date, Saturday. They came up with a theme, Waiting for Relief: Bay Area Servers for Haitian Relief Effort. They contacted the American Red Cross. A representative from the Red Cross will be at the fundraiser.

"This is the only way I can help," Bruno said. "I'm not wealthy. We work hand to mouth and paycheck to paycheck. I'm willing to go without. That electric bill can wait."

In Safety Harbor, employees can elect to have a designated amount of money deducted from their paycheck to assist the people of Haiti.

From now until Feb. 26, the city is asking all employees and its 18,000 residents to drop off checks at City Hall, 750 Main St. Cash and checks made payable to Safety Harbor will not be accepted. Donations must be in the form of a check made payable to the American Red Cross. Safety Harbor will match all contributions up to a total of $10,000.

"They need cash," said Joe Ayoub, the city commissioner whose idea it was to create some sort of citywide outreach effort. "They're going to need money for years to come."

Diaz said they're also going to need prayers. He returned to Clearwater on Wednesday, but plans to go back to Haiti next week. Holy Trinity works with three schools there. All 200 of the students and teachers at one school perished. At another, there is a man with no arms and legs who lost all of his prosthetics in the rubble.

"He needs to be brought out," Diaz said. "There are blind children we need to move.

"Not enough is being given to the people outside of Port-au-Prince, to the little villages to which many people have fled."

Amid all the devastation, there were stories of resilience and hope, Diaz said.

Every night, when the sun set, a crescendo of voices filled the air above a soccer field turned campground. Haitians sang hymns until 1 a.m. They slept, woke at 4, then sang some more until daylight.

"It's their way of connecting to their only hope and escaping the reality around them," Diaz said. "It's an eerie and wonderful and heart-filled experience.

"The spirit is not broken."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Tarpon Springs plans fundraiser

Fifty percent of the proceeds from Saturday's Enchanted Evening of Stars will go to the American Red Cross for Haitian earthquake relief, Kathleen Monahan, director of the Tarpon Springs cultural services department, announced this week. The other half of the proceeds will go to the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center. The performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 Pine St. Reserved seating tickets are $30, $25 and $20. Location pricing tickets are $15. For more information, call (727) 942-5605 or go to tarpon
arts.org.

Haiti's plight moves hearts, hands across North Pinellas 01/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 3:55pm]
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