McALISTERVILLE - Almost six months have passed since a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, and millions of its people still are sleeping on the ground.
A group of local doctors and nurses who witnessed the conditions of the post-disaster Haiti in March returned to Juniata County feeling compelled to do something more.
Throughout the spring, Drs. John Gehman and Todd Taylor, nurses Lori King and Diane Kauffman, and Jeff Hoover formed an organization to build houses for Haitians who still are living in tents. Others since have joined the effort, King said.
Earthquake camps in the Haitian capital are swelling instead of shrinking, with an estimated 1.5 million citizens living under tarps, tents and a few transitional shelters, according to a June 2 Associated Press article.
Gehman said the health conditions of living in tent cities are very poor. Some of the "tents" are nothing more than scraps of cloth draped over a makeshift frame, he said.
"We need to get people off the ground and into something durable," Gehman said.
The Juniata County organization, Houses of Hope for Haiti, is working in conjunction with God's Missionary Church World Missions to purchase and build house kits that will be shipped and completed in Haiti, King said.
"It was John's brainchild," King said.
Gehman initiated the idea after reading about an Ohio group who built shelters and sent them to Haiti. He said their organization goal is to send one container that fits 17 partially-assembled house kits by the end of the summer.
"It would be wonderful to send numerous containers," Gehman said.
The structures, which look like backyard sheds, are made with high-quality materials, Hoover said.
Each house kit will include:
One 8x16 foot house with a door and two window openings that close;
A built-in bed frame and mattress;
Two roll-up sleeping pads;
One 6-foot table;
Two folding chairs;
One plastic tote filled with blankets and bedding;
One plastic tote filled with silverware, bowls, cups, cooking pans and candles.
"We'll build everything here," Hoover said. "Everything will be cut and put in packages, ready to assemble."
A local team plans to follow the packages down to Leogane, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, to help church families build them on the land where their homes were destroyed, she said.
Haitian missionary Don Mobley, who is coordinating the project with Houses of Hope for Haiti, told the group, "These people would go back to their land if they had something to live in."
Hoover just completed the first house as a display model to raise awareness in the community.
"We plan to take it on a trailer around the community for promotion," Gehman said. "So, people will get the basic understanding of what we're doing."
Already, the community has been eager to give.
Local business have donated supplies at reduced costs and an area to assemble the structures, while others from the community have donated their time and money, Hoover said.
"Everyone has been so helpful," Hoover said. "We've received many donations, some at-cost supplies and half-cost supplies."
Children at Gehman's church, Lauver's Mennonite, also have stepped up to help, Gehman said. Their goal is to raise enough money to build one house, and already the children have collected $600, he said.
Each house kit costs about $2,000 to build and ship, King said.
"One hundred percent of the money is going to ... the materials needed and shipping costs to Haiti," King said. "There is no paid labor."
The organization is looking for volunteers to donate their time to help put the kits together, King said. Monetary donations and prayers also are needed, she said.
Donations may be sent to the River Church of Juniata County, 2891 Industrial Park Road, Mifflintown, PA 17058. Checks should include "Houses of Hope" on the memo line.
"The vision of Houses of Hope for Haiti is to respond in God's love to provide a basic home for a Haitian family who lost their home in the earthquake," King said.