Long Lake men travel to Haiti to help survivors

(originally appeared in Adirondack Daily Enterprise)
By JESSICA COLLIER, Enterprise Staff Writer
February 16, 2010

After a mammoth earthquake laid waste to Haiti last month, many people donated money to the relief efforts to help the people there.

Some, however, were not satisfied to leave it at that.

Long Lakers Caleb Thompson and Andy Pratt were two such do-gooders. After the earthquake, Thompson and Pratt decided to head to Haiti to help.

Just last fall, Thompson had done mission work through in Anse-a-Galet, a town on the island of La Gonave in Haiti’s Gulf of Gonave, about 25 miles northwest of the quake’s epicenter in Port-Au-Prince.

Thompson checked with his contacts in Anse-a-Galet, and while the island largely escaped the destruction the earthquake caused, refugees were streaming there in droves looking for relief from the ruins of the mainland. Caleb’s father, Chris Thompson, said that just after the earthquake, 750 to 1,000 new refugees would appear every day, with the hospital seeing 150 new cases a day, though he said he expects that number may have dropped off slightly since.

In addition to increased demand for resources, supply chains were largely cut off because the earthquake demolished most of Haiti’s deepwater ports and stopped up most air traffic.

So Caleb Thompson and Pratt, his longtime friend, both 29-year-olds who grew up in Long Lake, decided to go to Haiti and bring supplies for the people in La Gonave.

Pratt, a West Point Military Academy graduate who recently completed two tours in Iraq, had served six months as a supply officer but was the only one who had any experience with shipping supplies.

Chris Thompson helped as his son and Pratt coordinated efforts to get two large shipping containers filled with 45,000 pounds of food – rice, beans and oil – and as much medicine, fuel, tents, tarps and other supplies as they could pack in around the sides.

“We’ve done a lot of learning,” Chris Thompson said. “We’ve never shipped a thing by sea before in our lives, so we had to learn this.”

Caleb Thompson and Pratt made arrangements and presented their plans to James, looking for help.

James said he was surprised to hear the plans the men had been concocting. Normally, Wesleyans will help along relief efforts by donating to the national level of the church.

“This would be the first for us to be front and center,” James said. “But this way, we, and especially Caleb and Andy, just felt like we needed to get stuff there ASAP – a lot of the other places were having bottlenecks.”

James had the district front the money to the effort and started a widespread fundraising effort. They set up a blog with a PayPal account, an online payment system that allows people to donate easily to the cause, and James started spreading the word through the church network.

James’s district raised $30,000, while Chris Thompson’s brother, Peter, helped raise another $35,000 through his church in Spokane, Wash., and James’s brother raised $45,000 through his Florida church. Youth With a Mission, a Montana-based religious organization that Caleb Thompson’s sister works with, is also raising funds.

The churches aren’t taking any money for administration fees – every cent is going directly into the effort to get aid to Haiti, James said.

“We’re simply passing it through,” he said.

Thompson and Pratt flew to Florida on Jan. 25.

They spent a week and a half there. At first, they packed the containers and made final arrangements, but then they were stalled waiting for the boat they were using to head out.

According to one update on the blog that several of the people involved are keeping to inform everyone about the mission, “Caleb and Andy hate Palm Beach and Denny’s, can’t wait to get underway and deliver the goods.” Finally, they shipped off from Florida at 3:09 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4.

After several days at sea, the ship arrived at St. Marc port in Haiti at 8 a.m. Feb. 7.

Getting there was just half the battle, though. Once in the port, customs agents wouldn’t let Thompson, Pratt or the supplies off the ship because of problems with paperwork. They were stalled for several days before they were finally released, and they are only this week able to start distributing supplies around the island.

This weekend, Thompson and Pratt traveled to Port-Au-Prince and saw the wreckage for the first time.

“Everybody has seen the news footage but it’s another thing to see the countless broken buildings yourself; to see the people face to face who have lost so much and have so little,” Thompson wrote in an e-mail update.

Pratt, a newlywed who recently moved with his new bride back to Long Lake, will be heading home soon, but Thompson’s father said he expected his son would stay for at least a month to help with other missionaries to distribute the supplies and more that are on the way.

Pratt’s mother, Valerie Galvagni, said she is proud of the two men.

“They’re giving their life; they really are,” Galvagni said. “I think it’s awesome.”

Thompson’s father agreed.

“I’m proud he’s doing his duty,” Chris Thompson said. “That’s really our duty, I think.”

But Caleb Thompson remains humble about the work he and his friend are doing.

“We are not trained missionaries, we are regular people who live a normal life in upstate NY,” Thomspon wrote. “We were when we started and will be when we’re done. God opened some big doors for us and our friends, and the most I can say for us is that we walked through them.”

Long Lake