What was supposed to be a fun trip for Goshen residents Arlin and Naomi Hunsberger next week to Haiti to visit friends may turn into a relief effort, or it may not happen at all.
The Hunsbergers, who've spent about 18 years in Haiti off and on since 1962, are trying to track down their friends in the Caribbean country after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit its capital, Port-au-Prince, killing thousands.
Arlin Hunsberger said he received reassuring news that one family he and his wife were close to that lives near the capital city is safe.
"That's a relief," he said. "But there are many other friends that we have there that we have not heard from."
Hunsberger said he and his wife have traveled to Haiti to do service with a variety of agencies. He spent 10 years as director of a U.S. government-financed environmental education program, working with Haitian farmers, served as the administrator of a hospital there and studied at the University of Haiti.
The retired Goshen College faculty member led students from the school to Haiti for its study-service term program for several years.
Goshen College spokeswoman Jodi Beyeler said 715 GC students and 17 faculty pairs have traveled to Haiti for the SST program. However, the college stopped sending students there in 1986 after Jean Claude Duvalier's chaotic departure from office. Beyeler said the college has two students from Haiti.
The Hunsbergers had planned to leave next Thursday for a two-week visit. Now, he said, they're unsure whether they'll be able to keep those plans, but he's contacted the organizations he's worked for, as well as the Haitian Embassy, to see if they can help.
"At this point it's too early to know whether we'll be able to be of assistance or not," he said.
Hunsberger said many houses, especially in poor areas, are built in ravines and would be susceptible to crumbling on one another. He said electricity has never been good in the country, and communication has essentially been cut after the disaster.
Haiti has long had support from the Michiana community through the annual Haiti Benefit Auction in Shipshewana. The auction, now in its 29th year, supports 13 different missions to Haiti, said Treasurer Sheldon Frey of Middlebury.
"Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere," Frey said. "It's stricken with a lot of people that need a lot of help, and it's one way that we can help a country that's fairly close to the United States."
Frey said he's not sure if the missions that are supported by the auction will be affected by the earthquake. This year's auction will be June 5.
Jennifer Steiner, the area's communications coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee, said MCC has nine workers in Haiti from the U.S., Colombia and the Netherlands, seven from Haiti and some additional support staff there. She said communication to workers in Haiti is "hit and miss," but they are all accounted for.
MCC has pledged $100,000 initially and is planning for a multi-year response of at least $1 million.
Frank Connolly, assistant executive director for the Elkhart County Red Cross, said each country has its own Red Cross, so the Haitian Red Cross is directing the response. Wednesday morning, Connolly said the American Red Cross had pledged $200,000 in assistance, but the organization had increased it to $1 million by the afternoon.
Feed the Hungry -- a nonprofit agency with headquarters in South Bend -- is launching a two-phase response, according to a press release. First, it is wiring funds to partners so they can buy items needed to help survivors. Next, it will load 20-ton containers of supplies in Miami to ship to Port-au-Prince.
SOME WAYS TO HELP
* Call (800) 733-2767 to make a donation to the Red Cross
* Text "Haiti" to 90999 to send a $10 donation to Red Cross relief
* Earmark a donation for "Emergency Relief For Haiti Earthquake" on Feed the Hungry's Web site, www.feedthehungry.org/Donations
* Donate to the Mennonite Central Committee's Haiti efforts online at www.mcc.org or by phone at (888) 563-4676