Even in Mistissini, the earthquake that devastated Haiti January 12 struck close to home. Voyageur Memorial School principal Judith Michel hails from Haiti as do local nurse Peggy Solon and Roberto Vilmé, who works at the Cree School Board head office. All three are still waiting for news about immediate family in Haiti and they remain very worried.

But their neighbours were quick to react. Bev and Jack Quinn were watching news about the massive destruction caused by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake January 12 and felt compelled to do something. They ran the idea of a fundraiser by their daughters, Jacqueline and Kim, who quickly called fellow teachers at Voyageur Memorial School to enlist their help.

Beginning with a breakfast fundraiser held January 16  in the Meechum General Store, more than $22,000 has been raised as of press time, with more expected. Announcements were put up around town and at a hockey tournament at the arena. The Quinns’ son-in-law, Steve Rombotis, spearheaded food preparation and both volunteers and store staff started cooking at 7 am in their homes and at the store. Ten tables fitting eight chairs each were brought over from the school. Almost 300 people showed up between 8-11 am and paid $15 each for a tasty breakfast of eggs, pancakes and French toast with all the fixings.

Among those in attendance were two local ministers, Pentacostal Minister Harry Mianscum and Anglican Minister John Wieb. Roberto asked Minister Mianscum to say a prayer in support of Haiti and its people and about 100 people gathered in a prayer circle.

The breakfast was so successful that immediate plans were made to host a spaghetti fundraising dinner that night. Over 200 people showed up. Another fundraiser was in the works for January 20.

Event organizers want to pay tribute to all the volunteers who made these events possible. They also want to highlight the wonderful collaboration between store staff at Meechum and teachers at Voyageur Memorial School.

A donation bin at the Meechum store amassed a considerable amount of money for the relief fund. Alongside the bin is a digital frame offering a slide show of pictures of the destruction around Haiti’s capital. One local elder saw announcements about the cause around town and brought a bucket of loose change to donate. One little girl heard about the disaster at school and was inspired to come and contribute the contents of her piggy bank. Another young girl insisted on buying the breakfast admission ticket herself as her way of helping other children in trouble so far away.

Local groups are donating to the cause too. The Cree Trappers’ Association has committed $300 while Meechum has committed $2,000. Organizers are ecstatic about how much has been raised thus far since the initial target was $5,000.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit $15,000,” Jack Quinn told the Nation. He added that people are contributing what they can and that, “It’s a pretty nice feeling to do something like this.”

The Quinn family plans to donate all the money to the Canadian Red Cross. They are asking for input from Mistissini’s tiny Haitian community on where they think the money would have the biggest impact.

This is not the first time the folks at Meechum and the local school have worked together to raise money for a good cause. They organized a fundraiser after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in southeast Asia. Teachers and store staff pitched in to do the cooking for a breakfast in the school gym. About $4,000 was raised at that event and this amount was matched dollar for dollar by the band council. The $8,000 donated to the Red Cross was in turn matched by the federal government.

The Government of Canada is again matching the contributions of individual Canadians to registered charities in support of humanitarian, recovery, and reconstruction efforts in Haiti up to a total of $50 million. The government will then use the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund administered by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to provide assistance through Canadian and international humanitarian and development organizations.

The best way to help earthquake victims in Haiti is to donate money, not clothing or food. Cash donations are the fastest, most efficient way to get help to people living in the disaster zone because relief agencies on the ground can purchase supplies based on the specific needs of Haitians. Right now, they need basics like food, water, shelter and medical support.

For more information about the disaster, visit the Canadian International Development Agency’s website at www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/.

You can make an online donation to the Canadian Red Cross on their website at www.redcross.ca or by phone at 1-800-418-1111. Make sure to mention you want your donation directed to the relief effort in Haiti. Donations can be made online to Doctors Without Borders at www.msf.ca.