Students can help victims of the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean by donating food and supplies at two collection drives on Saturday, co-sponsored by the Global Relief Organization and the U.S. Doctors for Africa.

The first collection drive will be from 9 a.m. to noon at Friendship Manor, located on El Colegio Road, and the second will be held at the Santa Barbara Boys and Girls Club at 632 East Canon Perdido St. from 1 to 8 p.m.

Heather Hewson, the Santa Barbara coordinator of the collection drives, said students can help by donating blankets, water, tents, food, baby supplies, school supplies, clothing, medical supplies, over-the-counter medicines, building materials, tools, tarps, stoves, lanterns and sleeping bags.

Hewson said even small donations would be helpful, and all contributions are welcome. She said the goal is to raise $10,000 and to fill one 24-foot truck with supplies.

“I was thinking if every student in I.V. brings one can of food, it would be incredible – it doesn’t take a whole lot,” Hewson said. “One person can make a huge difference.”

The Caribbean islands have recently been hit by a series of hurricanes, including Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne, which have devastated the area over a period of about four weeks.

Hewson said the relief effort is vital to helping rebuild the most heavily damaged areas in Haiti, Jamaica, Grenada, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. She said approximately 3,000 people have been killed, mostly in Haiti, and tens of thousands were displaced from their homes as the hurricanes swept through the Caribbean.

Jamaica’s crop of fruit trees has been almost completely wiped out, Hewson said, along with buildings throughout the region.
“What’s really sad is that everything has disappeared; everything’s gone.” Hewson said.

Hewson said the donations will be taken from Santa Barbara to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where the Global Relief Organization has a ship that will take the supplies directly to victims in the Caribbean islands.

“It’s very direct contact – it would be like me saying, ‘Do you need a shirt? Here you go,'” Hewson said.

Gordon Hunsuker, who founded the Global Relief Organization in 1998 when Honduras was devastated by Hurricane Mitch, said he hopes the collection drives will repair as many homes and distribute as much food and medical supplies as possible to help get people back on their feet. Hunsuker said that in the Bahamas alone, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 4,500 people were left homeless.

“This not only affected them for the moment but for the year until the economy comes around,” Hunsuker said. “I’ve seen a woman digging through the rubble of her house looking for a can of beans to feed her family.”

Ted Alemayhu, founder and CEO of the U.S. Doctors for Africa, said he created the organization about five years ago because of the overwhelming destruction the African continent experiences due to HIV and AIDS.

“We are trying to educate the public to look closely at what the continent is going through,” Alemayhu said. “Humans are becoming an endangered species on Africa because of HIV and AIDS.”

Although Alemayhu said the U.S. Doctors for Africa is focused on the continent of Africa, it has expanded its efforts to reach out to the Caribbean during this crisis.

“Our hope is that the community will react in the time of need,” Alemayhu said. “We are a very fortunate nation who helps other nations in their time of need.”

In conjunction with the collection drives, the Santa Barbara Caribbean Festival will be sponsoring an event from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club with music, art and food. Tickets for the event are $15 and all proceeds will go to the Interfaith Council, an agency working with the relief efforts in Haiti.

Any students interested in volunteering at either of the collection events can contact Hewson at (805) 653-5466. Anyone interested in driving the collected supplies to Fort Lauderdale, all expenses paid, should contact Hunsuker at (800) 416-7331.