WESLEY CHAPEL — Natalie Compas was working the carryout window at Lee Roy Selmon's restaurant on Jan. 12 when the texts started pouring in.
Haiti's been hit by an earthquake, her siblings and cousins wrote. A magnitude 7. More information to come.
Compas, 22, tried to wrap her head around the information for the next five hours of her shift.
An earthquake in Haiti? Were her relatives there okay?
At home, she and her family tried calling relatives in Port-au-Prince but got only busy signals, dead lines and phones that seemed to ring forever.
"That was when we realized it was even bigger than we thought," Compas said.
Compas is the only member of her immediate family born in the United States. Her parents came to America in 1985 from Port-au-Prince. She has too many aunts, uncles and cousins still living on the island nation to count.
The day after the tragedy, Compas learned that the majority of her family lost their homes but survived the initial earthquake and the powerful tremors that followed.
She lost an aunt, a cousin and his wife. Another cousin, a teacher, and his family are still missing.
"We're just praying and hoping for the best," Compas said.
The reports of death and destruction in her relatives' homeland have weighed heavily on Compas and her family's hearts. Each aftershock brings a new wave of worries. She believes her family survived the magnitude-5.9 tremor that rocked the island Wednesday morning.
Not one to sit idly, Compas reached out to friends and family to help the people in Haiti.
She sent out messages on Facebook that she would be collecting supplies and set up dropoff boxes in Clubhouses 1 and 2 of her Meadow Pointe community.
Her sorority at the University of South Florida, where Compas recently graduated with bachelor degrees in psychology and theater performance, is holding donation drives.
Her sister, Fabiola, 28, is also collecting goods through her nonprofit employer, the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association.
Together, they've collected more than 15 bags of clothing, cases of baby food, deodorant, soap, and medical supplies such as gauze, Band-aids, hydrogen peroxide and cotton balls for organizations including the Red Cross.
The activity keeps both women from worrying about their family.
"I just wanted to keep myself busy and give back as much as I could," Natalie Compas said. "It's better than sitting around and being sad."
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 435-7312.