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Tampa volunteers keep spirits up while collecting goods for Haiti

From left, volunteers Jacques Denis, Tania Coutard and Deidre Gantt organize donations of clothing during a relief effort for Haiti involving a coalition of organizations at the University Community Resource Center on Saturday.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

From left, volunteers Jacques Denis, Tania Coutard and Deidre Gantt organize donations of clothing during a relief effort for Haiti involving a coalition of organizations at the University Community Resource Center on Saturday.

TAMPA — On Saturday, volunteers gathered to collect donations for Haiti — and to keep busy.

It's the best way to keep your mind off friends and loved ones lost in the earthquake, said Tampa resident Josette Toulme, 67, who has 19 cousins missing in Haiti.

"It's been very stressful," she said.

But the mood at the University Community Resource Center on Saturday was upbeat. Volunteers were cheerful, even though some of their relatives have been confirmed dead.

"I've never been more proud to be a Haitian-American because the way that the U.S. has been responding has been unbelievable," said Sania Grandchamp, a disc jockey for Haitian radio station Mango Radio.

She received word shortly after the earthquake that two of her uncles had died. A couple of days later, her family contacted the men by phone. They were alive.

"There's been a lot of misinformation," she said. That's one of the reasons she has been working long hours, contributing to 24-hour live updates on Mango Radio.

Locals in fancy cars and old, beat-up vehicles pulled up to the center on N 22nd Street in Tampa to drop off bags and boxes of supplies at the drive, which was organized by the newly formed Tampa Bay for Haiti coalition, an alliance of local Caribbean and religious groups.

About 2 p.m., three young boys on vacation from Panama carried in supplies.

Twins Jacob and Jordan Furlong, 10, and their brother, Matthew, 12, had raked leaves for their grandparents to earn $40, which they decided to spend on canned food, baby food, energy bars, rice and water.

"They could have used the money for themselves," said the boys' grandmother, Brenda Furlong of Tampa.

"They need it more than we do," Matthew said.

As they dropped off the supplies, the volunteers cheered.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Baldwin family came from Dade City and dropped off a trunk full of food, clothes and personal hygiene items.

"We have to help," said Mary Baldwin, as tears ran down her face. "We have so much."

She turned to her daughter, Robin Baldwin, 27, a University of South Florida graduate student who was volunteering.

"She inspires us," Mary Baldwin said.

Robin Baldwin, who is studying the inequalities Haitian-American students face at school, has been busy volunteering since the earthquake struck Haiti.

"It hasn't fully hit me yet," she said.

Grandchamp hopes the supplies gathered Saturday will be on a helicopter flight to Haiti that's being organized by Brent Gambrell Ministries, which leads about a dozen mission trips to the country each year.

There will be plenty of more opportunities to drop off supplies, although Grandchamp said the best thing to do is to donate to the American Red Cross. Still, she plans to help organize more donation drives because rebuilding Haiti will take a long time, she said.

"They're starting right from the beginning again," she said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Tampa volunteers keep spirits up while collecting goods for Haiti 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 10:34pm]

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