Image: Donated goods
J. Pat Carter  /  AP
In this Feb. 4, 2010 photo, stacks of boxed donated goods are stored at the Notre Dame d'Haiti Catholic Church in Miami. More than three weeks after the earthquake, donated goods are accumulating at small charities, sitting in shipping limbo because of costs and a complex web of transportation logistics. The heaps of donations are evidence that many people ignored the advice to just give cash. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
updated 2/6/2010 8:11:39 PM ET 2010-02-07T01:11:39

Cases of bottled water and cardboard boxes full of blue jeans, diapers and cans of tuna are piled several feet high in Ruth Estriplet's living room. The charity worker doesn't want to stack anything above her head so she can see what's in the boxes.

What she can't see is a way to get all the items to Haiti.

More than three weeks after the earthquake, donated goods are accumulating at small charities, sitting in shipping limbo because of costs and a complex web of transportation logistics. The heaps of donations are evidence that many people ignored the advice to just give cash.

Estriplet and other charities opted to collect items because it has a more personal touch. She is specifically gathering donations for her hometown of Carrefour, a devastated suburb of Port-au-Prince. But it's not clear how she's going to get the goods there.

"We're open to anyone who has an idea on how to do this, and we're taking any suggestions," Estriplet said.

Almost immediately after the quake hit, large organizations said money was the best way to help. It has never been easy to get supplies into Port-au-Prince, and the tremor has made things much worse.

Aid workers in Port-au-Prince have complained that red tape, transportation bottlenecks, corruption and a fear of violence has slowed the distribution of food, medicine and other supplies.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., pet groomer Perfect Paws is holding onto the sandals, baby aspirin and canned goods the business collected unless a traveling aid worker has room in a suitcase for them. The store posted a sign in a window soliciting donations, but will now sit on the items until the bottleneck eases, said owner Tom Vasquez.

Some charities have found ways around the logjam by piggybacking on a larger organization or sending shipments to other Haitian ports or the Dominican Republic. The Rev. Reginald Jean-Mary, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti in Miami, has given boxes of cooking oil, rice, water and beans to Food for the Poor, but each shipment costs the international relief charity $5,000 to transport to Haiti.

Cash donations buy much more, like flights into the Dominican Republic for doctors and nurses and trucks to drive over the border with stoves, cooking pots and ingredients for hot meals, Jean-Mary said.

"We plan on doing that more, until the ports can be open," he said. "The only way in I see right now is the Dominican Republic."

'Connection is lost'
As of Wednesday, more than $644 million has been donated in the U.S. to major organizations engaged in Haiti relief efforts, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. More than a third of the money has gone to the American Red Cross.

Still, many Haitian-Americans say they want to make sure help gets directly to people who need it.

Asking just for cash can put off, for example, schoolchildren who want to send bandages to injured victims, said Hannah Belkovic of Massachusetts-based Partners in Development, which is working to get medical supplies and other aid to Haiti.

"The connection is lost, somehow, in what they are actually participating in," she said.

The charity's workers stuff their suitcases with as many bandages, rolls of gauze and antibiotics as they can, while the bulk of their donated supplies await shipping.

Michelle Lacourciere, director of the San Francisco-based Sirona Cares Foundation, was collecting toothpaste, food, crutches, school supplies and travel-sized toiletries even before the earthquake struck. The items were supposed to ship out free through the Air Force, but the quake hit and now she's unsure exactly how she will get the more than 6,000 square feet of items to Haiti.

But she and the other charities are optimistic it will work out.

"I understand that no one else will take goods," Lacourciere said. "If I'm the only one who will take them, then I'm glad that I'm doing it."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Americans in Haiti jail: ‘We fear for our lives’

  1. Closed captioning of: Americans in Haiti jail: ‘We fear for our lives’

    >>> from haiti and what some of those americans under arrest for kidnapping are saying tonight to us from their jail cell in port-au-prince in a scribbled note. nbc 's kerry sanders joins us now from haiti with the latest developments. kerry , good evening.

    >> reporter: well, good evening, lester . i visited the ten missionaries in jail today, and the haitian guards let us go right up to the bars and talk to them as long as we didn't have cameras this time. so we chatted with them. i was with an nbc producer. we chatted for about ten minutes. and during our conversation one of those slipped a revealing note to nbc producer don wood. the note, scribbled on a scrap of paper, says, "we fear for our lives here in haiti . there is corruption and extortion." then this -- " laura wants to control. we believe lying. we're afraid." laura would be laura silsby, the spokesperson for the jailed americans. she organized the trip to haiti and initially told government officials here she had permission if not documents to adopt 33 children in the wake of the earthquake. when i recently visited the ten in jail, she was the only one to speak on their behalf.

    >> you know, we don't have full details yet. we're waiting to know. all we know is god is going to bring this to a positive closure, and we're just waiting for that answer.

    >> is there an apology to be made by you to this government?

    >> no. we are meeting with the government officials and talking with them. everything is going very well.

    >> reporter: she has repeatedly said the group is trusting in god, as she did when i talked to her after a court hearing this week.

    >> i feel good. i'm trusting god.

    >> reporter: what is the outcome? what is the outcome? can you tell us what the outcome is?

    >> reporter: a haitian defense attorney hired to represent the ten says he too believes nine of the ten missionaries had no idea what was going on and that the adoption documents never existed. that scribbled note goes on to say, "please, you must listen. we have no way to call. court will not let us have a say with anything about truth for us. we only came as volunteers. we had nothing to do with any documents and have been lied to." the note has eight of the ten missionaries' names listed. missing are laura silsby and her close aid, karissa coulter. we contacted laura silsby's sister, kim barton. she said, "i don't foe what to say." we spoke to a family member of another name that is listed. they told us they have known for some time in idaho about division within the group. lester ?

    >> kerry , i know when they were first taken into custody that u.s. representatives from the embassy were being allowed visits. have those continued, or have they been halted?

    >> reporter: they have had consular services. even when they were in court, they have been advised on perhaps hiring a lawyer. they decided not to hire the lawyer that the consulate suggested they go with. they hired edwin clark . and we're hearing tonight on monday the ten may fire him and hire another attorney from the united states , lester .

    >> extraordinary developments in this story. kerry , thank you very much.

    >>> more than 250,000 toyota prius


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