Food for Haiti

Haiti aid_post.jpg

Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

To donate money toward food aid in Haiti, click here or scroll to the bottom of this post for more information.

Even before the earthquake hit Haiti on Tuesday, children in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere ate cookies made of dirt.

As of yesterday, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 3 million people needed assistance, most of them concentrated in the nation's capital, Port-au-Prince. Feeding those left homeless by the earthquake is one of the most pressing concerns facing aid groups.

The WFP, which has been operating in Haiti since 1969, approved an immediate response yesterday. The organization is trying to mobilize food and set up a place to bring in water purification tablets. Two planes--one from Panama and one from El Salvador, the group's logistical hubs in the region--are expected to arrive on the island today with up to 90 tons of special emergency aid bars. The high-energy biscuits will provide meals for a half million people. "These are times when it's about just giving people enough to get by," Jennifer Parmelee, the WFP's public affairs officer, told the Atlantic Food Channel. She called the biscuits "literally an energy lifeline," not really equivalent to what most would think of as a meal.

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The biscuits are the most appropriate food for responding to crisis because they are individually packaged and don't need to be mixed with water. Even where food is available, the devastation has left few facilities in which to prepare it. The WFP last used the biscuits in the Philippines to feed hundreds of thousands of people displaced by 2009's severe floods.

Parmelee said that logistics are the main challenge: "Even if you fly food in you have to get it to people who need it. A lot of humanitarian organizations are on the ground and can help us distribute these goods." Huge cracks in the road and rubble from landslides, she added, have made food delivery especially difficult.

Even as international aid organizations have had to deploy supplies, they have faced traumas of their own: the storm has damaged numerous agency headquarters in the country.

"We're still getting a grip on what's happened to our staff," Parmelee said. The WFP's compound was badly hit, leaving only one functioning satellite phone. As of yesterday, the organization still hadn't accounted for all of its 200 Haiti-based employees.

The 15 local American Red Cross employees, however, are safe, said Abi Weaver, a Red Cross spokesperson.

Though the Red Cross doesn't deliver food, it is addressing other primary needs like water, shelter, medical, and emotional support. Weaver said it has released one million in funds and enough supplies for 5,000 families--such as tarps, mosquito nets, and cooking sets. The Red Cross has also activated a partnership with Mobile Accord where cell phone users can donate ten dollars to relief in Haiti by texting the word "Haiti" to 90999.

Still, the Red Cross has faced challenges. "This was very traumatic," Weaver said. "Volunteers' homes were destroyed, and our local office was hit."

A portion of Food For The Poor's main office has also collapsed. As of yesterday, staffers were still assessing the damage to the feeding center that provides daily food to thousands. In addition to cash donations (click here to donate), Food For The Poor is accepting canned meats; fish; condensed, evaporated, and powdered milk; and bottled water. They are sending 400 shipping containers of rice, beans, and water, as well as blankets and lumber and zinc for repairs.

Though the response in Haiti has been overwhelming, traumas of this magnitude can draw attention away from long-term food aid projects, noted Ellen Gustafson, executive director of the FEED Foundation, which has given the WFP unrestricted funding for the situation in Haiti. In an interview with the Food Channel, Gustafson praised organizations that are allocating emergency funds, but added that FEED wants to ensure it is still able to provide daily meals to the 450,000 children in its school food programs.

FEED has put a donate button on its Web site. In addition, between now and June, profits from sales of its reusable organic cotton bags will be allocated to feeding school children in Haiti. (Click here to buy bags.) The bags feed either one child for one year or two children for two years.

Gustafson said Haiti was one of the first countries where people noticed the "complete despair of the food crisis." This week's earthquake came at a particularly vulnerable time, as the country continues to recover from 2008's four hurricanes and widespread political, social, and economic upheaval. Now, as its citizens begin to rebuild their lives, food aid agencies must balance present demands with long-term needs.


You can donate money toward food aid in Haiti by clicking the following links:

Food For The Poor

The Feed Foundation (World Food Programme emergency aid)

FEED Projects (bags for school food program)

Other organizations providing non-food aid in Haiti:

American Red Cross

Partners in Health

Catholic Relief Services

To get in touch with loved ones in Haiti: if they are US citizens call the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747. If not, you can register and search for missing family members at the partner site of the Red Cross.

You can also text the word "Haiti" to 90999 and ten dollars will be donated to relief through the American Red Cross.