by Mike Sharkey
By now most everyone is familiar with the devastation caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake was followed by 52 recorded aftershocks of magnitude 4.5 or greater over the next 12 days.
Within a day or so of the quake, news agencies were on the scene, sending video and stories of the devastation all over the world. Relief agencies soon arrived as well.
Firehouse Subs isn’t a relief agency, but through a partnership with Naples-based Hope for Haiti the Jacksonville-founded, nationwide chain was able to help thousands of Haitians who simply need something decent to eat.
Recently, Firehouse co-founder Robin Sorenson, his father Capt. Rob Sorenson, his nephew Eric Sorenson and the company’s CFO — and City Council member — Stephen Joost went to Haiti to deliver food and see firsthand the ruins and the needs.
“It’s as bad as they say it is,” said Joost. “It’s horrible. I had seen it on TV and I knew it was bad. I don’t think anything can really prepare you.”
In addition to taking and distributing 87,000 pounds of rice and beans to 350,000 people, Joost and the others brought water filtration systems and medical supplies. Joost said many of the roads are impassible and the number of collapsed buildings is too high to count. According to the Haitian government, 3 million people were affected by the earthquake and its aftershocks. Also, 230,000 people died, another 300,000 were injured and about 1 million are now homeless. Over 250,000 residences were destroyed while 30,000 commercial buildings collapsed or were severely damaged.
Joost said seeing Haiti made seeing potholes in Jacksonville practically irrelevant.
“I am glad I live in this country,” he said. “We don’t have problems. The roads are completely broken down, there is no organized traffic pattern and there are thousands and thousand of people walking the streets trying to earn a living. Our rice and beans was the first solid food they had in weeks.
“We were greeted like rock stars.”
In addition to food, Firehouse Subs donated 500 of its empty, five-gallon pickle buckets for usage during the cleanup efforts. The food donation provided nearly 500,000 meals.
“Hot meals with high protein are in high demand in Haiti,” said Sorenson. “There are so many areas where we can all help, but hunger has been a chief concern since the earthquake.”
The Firehouse crew stayed for three days and Joost said they stayed in very modest lodging in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital.
“I was just glad to have clean sheets and a pillow. I was not expecting that,” he said, adding the damage done to the country’s government and infrastructure was alarming. “They probably lost half of their government. The drivers license office is gone. Banks are gone.”
The trip also opened the eyes of Joost the Council member. As chair of the Finance Committee, he helps scrutinize every piece of legislation that has to do with taxpayer dollars.
“It definitely changed my perspective,” he said. “Those people are willing to work for as little as a dollar a day. Their struggle every day is just to survive.
“We helped a lot of people and it felt good to do that.”