From all walks of life, donations pour in
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From all walks of life, donations pour in

By Megan Woolhouse Globe Staff /  January 15, 2010

They followed news accounts of the devastation in Haiti, horrified. And then they gave to a country that only a few had ever visited, and many knew little about. From $5 sent via cellphone text messages to $1 million from the founder of a Boston construction company, money and other assistance from the region poured in yesterday.

"Haiti has had so much trauma, it's overwhelming, it's just heartbreaking,'' said Jim Ansara, owner of Shawmut Design and Construction, who donated $1 million to the Boston Foundation to help with emergency relief and rebuilding efforts on the island devastated by Tuesday's earthquake.

"I think we as Americans, and Americans with means, we still have a responsibility to Haiti,'' he said.

It was a sentiment that seemed to echo everywhere. Businesses, colleges, government agencies, charities, and other groups scrambled to organize Haitian relief efforts, even though money is tight for many.

The Red Cross was a popular recipient. CVS Caremark Corp. in Woonsocket, R.I., gave the relief organization $125,000, and National Grid in Waltham, TJX Cos. in Framingham, and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. of Springfield each donated $100,000. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. in Boston gave another $250,000 to the Red Cross and offered to match employees' contributions up to an additional $250,000. BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. in Natick gave $100,000 to Doctors Without Borders.

There were also thousands of more modest donations from Massachusetts and throughout New England.

Danya Raphael, 33, who works in BJ's marketing department, said she sent several small donations by text messaging on her phone, including $5 to the Red Cross and $10 to Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean's relief effort.

"I'm just trying to do my part,'' she said.

Oxfam America, a nonprofit based in Boston that works to combat poverty and hunger in poor countries, said it has raised $3 million since Tuesday night and has sent staff and emergency crews to the island.

The magnitude of the destruction in a country already wracked by poverty - especially in an age when people worldwide are connected through technology - spurred many to act quickly.

"These people are just 1,600 miles away,'' said John Rosenthal, president of Meredith Management Co., a Newton investment firm that sent $1,000 to Partners In Health, a nonprofit that has worked in Haiti for years. Rosenthal said he felt compelled to do something.

"Haiti is a really poor neighbor, and it's going to need many, many millions if not billions to dig out of the devastation,'' Rosenthal said.

Right now, the country's needs are even more basic. Covidien PLC, a health care products company based in Dublin but run out of Mansfield, is preparing crates of medical supplies to ship to Haiti today.

The travel industry has also stepped up, with airlines sending supplies to Haiti, letting frequent fliers donate miles, and allowing passengers to donate seats to relief workers. JetBlue Airways is offering open seats to relief workers and volunteers headed to Haiti. Logan also waived landing fees for humanitarian flights, including an Icelandair Boeing 757 that stopped in Boston to refuel on its way to Haiti Wednesday and a charter flight packed with relief workers and supplies that took off yesterday.

Boston's Grand Circle Foundation, a nonprofit that owns several travel companies and supports villages and schools around the world, sent out an e-mail message to thousands of travelers yesterday seeking money for Haiti. The plea generated $75,000 within a few hours, which the foundation will match and supplement with an additional $25,000.

"This thing is a runaway train,'' said the foundation's chairman, Alan Lewis, who expects to raise more than $250,000.

Employees at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut., which has about 250 Haitians among its 10,000 workers, donated $1,000 to the Red Cross. Sandra Morgan, who supervises dozens of Haitian dishwashers in a Foxwoods kitchen, wrote a personal check for $50.

An employee, who had not heard from her family in Haiti, collapsed on the floor yesterday, Morgan said. Another, whose 6-year-old stepson may have died, started shaking so badly that Morgan sent her home.

"They're not eating, they're not sleeping,'' she said of the distressed workers.

Many have realized that the most they can do to help is offer their time or financial support.

Ansara said he and his wife, Karen, visited Haiti several times last year with relief workers from Partners In Health because they were helping to build a hospital. After the earthquake, they canceled their plans to visit later this month and decided to make the $1 million donation yesterday morning. The money will be matched by the Boston Foundation.

"One of the key reasons life in Haiti has been a disaster, even in the days before this happened, is because the rights of the people have been denied,'' Karen Keating Ansara said.

Bank of America Corp. , the largest bank in New England, pledged to give $1 million in aid to victims, including $500,000 to the Red Cross's Haitian relief fund. Though the bank is based in Charlotte, N.C., executives who oversee its philanthropic efforts are based in Boston.

The bank's newly named chief executive officer, Brian Moynihan, who lives in Wellesley, previously served on the board of the Haitian Project, which is run by his brother Patrick. The Providence-based charity supports a school in Haiti.

Jonathan Davis, chief executive of the Davis Companies, an investment firm in Boston, said the devastation caused by the earthquake motivated him and his wife to double to $1,000 their annual contribution to Save the Children, an organization with offices in Haiti that is helping coordinate relief efforts.

"We're giving what for us is a substantial donation, but it does not begin to address the level of suffering and dislocation,'' Davis said. "People don't have a place to live. They don't have food or water. They don't even have place to lay down and sleep.''

Globe staff reporters Jenn Abelson, Hiawatha Bray, Katie Johnston-Chase, Casey Ross, and Todd Wallack contributed to this report. Megan Woolhouse can be reached at

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