Volunteers Moved to Help Haiti, But Goodwill Turns to Organized Chaos

By Lindsey Ellerson

Jan 18, 2010 3:43pm

ABC News’ Gregory Simmons reports: The scene at the Haitian Embassy this morning in Washington, D.C. was not what you might expect: volunteers toting supplies and food being turned away. 


The National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians put out a request on Sunday for recovery materials to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti last week.  Within a few hours, there were more donated goods than could fit inside the embassy.  Bags of clothes, baby goods, food and water began piling up on the street outside and soon, it was a full on scramble to find more trucks to store and transport the goods.  The two U-Hauls the organization originally thought would be enough had already been moved out of the way to make room for others.  The situation eventually became so chaotic that the District of Columbia branch of the Department of Homeland Security was forced to step in as the organizer, securing a large warehouse behind the D.C. General Hospital to drop the supplies.

A race against the clock ensued – organizers worked to sort through the flood of donations before more goods were piled up.  Barbara Sorensen of Maryland was one of the volunteers so moved by the images from Haiti that she offered her services at the embassy on Sunday.


“I saw a picture of a man holding his little dead child and the thought of being in that place and a victim of what goes on around you without any control and the need being so great there as it is – that’s why we came,” said Sorenson.


Five hundred volunteers came out to the D.C. warehouse Monday to help.  But the outpouring of people and good intentions soon turned into a logistical nightmare inside the facility.  Huge piles of clothes, diapers, toiletries, water and food cluttered the interior, making it difficult for the volunteers to navigate the area.


Bags of supplies continued to pile up as organizers shouted over megaphones that they would not take any more donations until those already inside the warehouse had been sorted.


Magile Emile, a representative from the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee, says that while there have been issues getting the donation process to run as smoothly as she would like, there will be “no problems” in getting these donations into the hands of the victims who are in desperate need of them.  Emile promised that those who were not able to donate today will have many opportunities in the near future.


“We could be just like those folks in Haiti,” said volunteer Marilyn Wells as she sorted through toothpaste and baby clothes. “We had our September 11.  We’ve had our times when the nations came to us.   Now it’s time for us to go out and show how much we care.”

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