With some 20 trips to Haiti over the past five years, Charlotte businessman Mark Creasser couldn't ignore the latest pleas for help.
Ten days after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake destroyed the capital city of Port-au-Prince, Creasser placed himself aboard a chartered flight of doctors en route to Haiti.
Creasser has many investments in Haiti, all of them personal: the people of Haiti and, most especially, the Missionaries of the Poor in Cap-Haïtien.
"I was pleased to find the mission at Cap-Haïtien had not been affected by the earthquake," said Creasser.
"We knew the need in Port-au-Prince would be intense, so from our base at the mission at Cap-Haïtien, we filled three buses with food and set out for the capital city. A distance of approximately 80 miles, the trip through the countryside took us eight hours."
Creasser was one of the first to bring food into the city.
Back home again, Creasser related his experiences to the pastor of St. Matthew Catholic Church in southeast Charlotte, Msgr. John J. McSweeney.
"The highest concern after the earthquake is the potential for the outbreak of fast spreading disease. Almost 240,000 people died as a consequence of the quake, but many more than that could perish from diseases brought about by unsanitary conditions," Creasser said.
Creasser told McSweeney about a Haitian businessman who had donated a 10,000-square-foot warehouse to the Missionaries of the Poor in Cap-Haïtien, and the missionaries wanted to retrofit the building as a shelter for homeless. The building was a generous donation, but it would require more capital to compartmentalize it and provide food for the newly displaced.
A few weeks earlier, in a special collection for the earthquake fund, the parish donated $78,000 to Catholic Relief Services. The pastor encouraged Creasser to reach out again to parishioners for more support. McSweeney allotted Creasser three weeks for this additional fundraising.
Because Creasser was sending construction, kitchen and living supplies to Haiti in addition to food, this new effort would have to exceed prior fundraising goals. Money and supplies poured in. The children of St. Matthew Elementary School raised more than $3,500 in donations, while other parishioners donated single and bulk items and money. By the end of the third week, the donations had filled three 40-foot shipping containers, and Creasser estimated the value of the donations at $200,000.
There was only one problem remaining: The mission in Cap-Haïtien had no building to store the additional supplies. From the pulpit that Sunday, McSweeney asked his parish for volunteers to purchase the three containers so they could be parked on the property of the mission. Three corporate donations were made, and an additional donation came from a nonparishioner attending the service that day, allowing for a final total of four containers to be bought.
Creasser plans to continue his efforts in Haiti and said he plans to hold another fundraising drive this summer.
"The need today is more than ever," he said.