Pitt Community Makes Impact in Efforts to Help Haiti Earthquake Victims

Issue Date: 
May 2, 2010

The coordinated efforts of University of Pittsburgh faculty, staff, and students have made a difference in helping Haitians whose lives were devastated and homes destroyed by a Jan. 12 earthquake.

Pitt’s volunteer relief activities were coordinated by G. Reynolds “Renny” Clark, vice chancellor for community initiatives and chief of staff in Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg’s office; John Wilds, assistant vice chancellor for community relations; and Steve Zupcic, assistant director in the Office of Community Relations.

Just two days after the quake, Pitt’s community relations team formed partnerships with two Pittsburgh-based relief agencies: Brother’s Brother Foundation (BBF) and Global Links.

Pitt and BBF’s “Buckets for Haiti” campaign collected more than 1,200 buckets that were filled with soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, washcloths, towels, sanitary wipes, hairbrushes, and combs in five-gallon buckets; an additional 120 were collected on the Greensburg campus.

Members of Pitt’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology assembled the items into smaller, individual personal care packages to facilitate distribution.

“It’s hard to imagine doing without personal care items that everyone takes for granted in this country,” said Joseph Pawlak, administrative coordinator of the Pitt Men’s Study and leader of the personal care items project. “Being able to wash your face or brush your teeth seems like a little thing, but it helps to restore dignity to people overwhelmed with stress.”

Once the buckets were filled, Pitt’s Department of Mailing Services collected them from around campus and stored them at its warehouse for pickup by BBF.

The buckets were more than just a clever way to collect the items: With much of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince population living in temporary relief camps, a single faucet is often the sole source of potable water for hundreds of families. The buckets served as a convenient way to collect water.

“We selected Brother’s Brother Foundation because it has a 40-year history of delivering humanitarian aid on the ground in Haiti,” said Zupcic, adding that BBF’s founder, the late Robert Hingson, was a professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) as well as a professor of anesthesiology in Pitt’s School of Medicine and director of anesthesiology at Magee-Womens Hospital.

“The Brother’s Brother Foundation is grateful to the University of Pittsburgh students, staff, and faculty who graciously supported the relief efforts in Haiti with donations of buckets filled with hygiene items,” said Luke Hingson, who succeeded his father as BBF president.

Pitt’s partnership with Global Links, the “Have a Heart for Haiti” campaign, involved GSPH faculty, staff, and students collecting mobility-assist devices such as crutches, walkers, and wheelchairs.

In late February and March, more than 200 crutches, canes, walkers, and wheelchairs were collected for Haitians who suffered catastrophic injuries in the earthquake. Volunteers from GSPH, led by Pawlak, and the School of Nursing, led by Building Manager Kathleen Zoldos, collected the items for Global Links.

“The donations by University of Pittsburgh students, staff, and faculty members helped address the severe shortages of crutches, canes, and walkers throughout Haiti,” said Global Links Deputy Director Angela Garcia.

“New crutches are expensive to purchase in Haiti because they are imported. Crutches cannot be made in Haiti due to the severe deforestation. The only available trees are young products of tree-planting efforts to help counter the environmental degradation. As our recovery efforts continue, we look forward to additional creative partnerships with the University community that convey our collective expression of concern for the people of Haiti,” she said.

In addition to the mobility-assist device collection, Global Links partnered with the Center for Global Health within GSPH to sponsor a series of panel discussions and conferences on the Haiti disaster and recovery efforts.

Clark, Wilds, and Zupcic published a letter on Pitt’s Department of Community Relations Web page thanking the Pitt community for its efforts.