[Part One of a three-part story about what happened when my kids decided our family was going to help people in Haiti.]
Five years ago, on Tuesday, January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I heard about it on NPR on the way home from picking up my kindergartners. The breathless reporter on the ground described the crumbled buildings with people trapped inside, the dazed children alone in the streets, and the catastrophic injuries (read a summary of the devastation here). In typical NPR fashion you could hear her boots crunching on broken cement, people crying, and sirens in the background.
When she said something about the children there being so vulnerable, and I looked at my bundled up kids singing in the back row of my deluxe minivan and teared up. The kids asked what was wrong. I told them there was an earthquake in Haiti, where Daddy had been two years ago, and that lots of people were hurt, and lots of little kids needed help. We prayed for them in the car.
Here are pictures from my husband’s trip to Haiti in September, 2007.
This is my favorite one. They called Chris “Big Boy.”
The kids asked what an earthquake was at dinner. They wanted to know if anyone broke their arm. At bedtime they asked if mommies and babies got hurt in Haiti. After I put Greta down, we read a story and did our bedtime prayers. Caleb and Zoë asked about all of it all over again. Then they spontaneously declared that we were going to send food to Haiti and “do a program.”
Wait, what? What’s a “program?” They had never talked like this before, about doing something to help someone else. I didn’t know how to respond. I didn’t say, “Yes! This is great!” And I didn’t say, “No, kids. I don’t know how to do this stuff. I’m so tired.” Choking back tears for the second time that day, I said out loud as I tucked them in, “God, please show us what you’d like us to do to help Haiti.”
I called Chris who was in New York on business. He was also surprised by their sudden desire to help people in a crisis far away. This was new territory. Five year olds have ideas. They were beginning to see how they fit in the big world. Would we listen to them? Would we let them try to help? Would we fan these flames?
Did I mention Chris was out of town? He often traveled for work, and I was on my own with a very dramatic toddler and the emotional Bonnie & Clyde of kindergarteners. We lived in a small house. I was never alone. I’ve never been an Award Winning Mother and I didn’t want to add one more thing to highlight my inadequacies.
Chris and I were mostly quiet on the phone. We both felt we should go wherever this was leading. We knew something important was happening in our kids’ hearts. It felt like the calm before the storm, the countdown before launch. From his hotel room Chris prayed something like, “God, our kids belong to you. Help us not get in the way. Show us what to do.”
The next day I called our friend Kent Annan, the co-Director for Haiti Partners, to see what was happening in Haiti and how we could possibly help, besides just sending a check. Kent is the one Chris went to Haiti with two years before. Kent is the one who kept me, my mom, and my sister occupied over hot chocolate in downtown Vienna, Austria while Chris stole my Dad away to ask if he could marry me. Kent is a humble, quiet risk taker. I just wanted Kent to tell us what to do.
On Friday things started to take shape. We learned the Auguste Family had lost everything in the earthquake. They lived in Dabon, outside of Port au Prince, at the epicenter of the quake. They found a phone to call Kent at 1:00am that Thursday and said, “We are alive. We were outside cooking when the earthquake hit. The houses fell down. But, praise God, we are alive.”
When Chris went to Haiti the Augustes hosted him in their home. They were generous, friendly, and kind. Here is what their house looked like before the earthquake:
It seemed like this could work. Haiti was on our kids’ hearts. We knew someone doing good work there. We had a heart connection to people needing help. We learned a basic house cost about $2000. It seemed doable. We started to get excited.
I thought and prayed more about what Zoë and Caleb could literally do with their own hands to help Haiti. Since it seemed God was prompting them to do something, whatever we chose should be something they could actually do themselves. They loved helping me bake (I love baking), and they loved making crafts (oh how I hate crafts). What was I willing to do to equip and empower my kids? How much sanity was I willing to sacrifice?
So when Greta and I picked them up from school two days after the earthquake, I asked if they still wanted to do something to help Haiti. They shouted, “Yes!” from the back row of the van. I asked if they wanted to build a family a new house because their old one got ruined in the earthquake. They shouted “Yes!” again.
I asked if they would want to ask our friends and neighbors if they’d like to buy cookies and valentine ornaments. They were so excited. Mama is going to let us use glue and glitter in the house again! Mama is going to let us eat cookie dough!
So it began. Our first family Compassion project was underway. I got out the cookbooks and started grocery lists. I typed up little flyers for the kids to give to neighbors and posted information on my facebook page. Chris made and cleaned up dinner, straightened the house, and got the kids all ready and in bed. This right here was our big plan:
|CALEB & Zoë’S BAKED SPECIALITIES|
|* Valentine Frosted Sugar Cookies||1 dozen||$8|
|* Peanut Butter Cookies||1 dozen||$6|
|* Snickerdoodle Cookies||1 dozen||$6|
|* Cinnamon Swirl Bread||1 loaf||$8|
|Zoë & CALEB’S BEAUTIFUL HANDICRAFTS|
|Handmade Valentine Ornament These ornaments can be made with a 5 yr old’s glue & glitter flourish or can be personalized with a name, the word “Hope” or the word “Haiti.”||$6|
We set a goal of $500, hoping to match it and help the Auguste family with half the cost of a new house. We practiced knocking on doors and talking about Haiti. We printed up pictures of baby girl Jeldwyn, her resourceful grandmother Dom, and their house. Caleb knocked on doors, glasses askew, jammed flyers in people’s hands, and said: “Help for Haiti! Someone’s house fell down and we want to help build them a new one!”
Orders came in about every 15 minutes on facebook. Neighbors dropped off checks, loaned their kitchenaids and offered to help bake. Two different people pledged to match every dollar we received. The kids were amazed by the math concept of doubling and cheered when every order came in – “Mom! Sixteen dollars! What’s the double-double of that? Forty-eight dollars! Wow!”
When I bent down to tuck Zoë in that night she whispered, “Mom, my brain is exploding with ideas for Haiti.” I snuggled close, eager (and a little afraid) to hear what was next in her “program.” She started by stating we should send all of Greta’s baby blankets to Haiti because she was almost done with them and there were babies sleeping on the dirt with nothing.
And then, she lifted the edge of her new beloved pottery barn kids bedspread and said, “Mama, I don’t really need this blanket, can we please send it to Haiti? We have so many blankets we don’t use in our house. Can we just send them?” This was new. Since when did they want to share so much?
By Sunday night, 48 hours after the start of our impromtu fundraiser, people had donated $1168! More than double the goal. Chris, the wise man that he is, suggested (begged) we call of the baking portion of the fundraiser because the chaos was going to swallow us up.
We had 25 pound bags of flour and sugar on the floor; rubbermaid bins full of brown sugar, cook books, yeast, peanut butter and sprinkles; 3 mixers on the kitchen table; large hobby lobby bags full of ornament supplies; 9 dozen eggs in the fridge; and flip chart paper stuck all over the kitchen with a running tally of how many cookies and loaves we had left to bake. I didn’t want to stop. Chris assured me that the best way to kill the good that was happening in our home was for me to be stressed and crabby with the kids (and him) for a month because we over-committed. He was right.
Over the next couple of weeks we baked cookies, rolled bread dough, and glued love onto red felt ornaments. I made half hour delivery runs around town after dinner with dozens of cookies tied in red ribbon. I herded my three kids into the post office with towers of packages to deliver. There was happy chaos in the house, a light dusting of flour and glitter over the whole first floor, and a dryer lint trap full of sequins.
Did I mention that during all this Chris convinced me it was time to find a new house? Oh my gosh, I will never forget the realtor’s silent shock walking through our home in the middle of all this, ducking past sparkling ornaments on branches, stepping over packages to ship. At the end he stammered, “um, yeah, you guys are going to need to do some kind of BIG clean up here before we could ever put it on the market.”
This was our family’s first adventure doing Compassion together. It was organic. It wasn’t forced or reactive. It was passionate, responsive, and kid-centric. In three weeks we made 20 dozen peanut butter cookies, 18 dozen snickerdoodles, 25 dozen frosted sugar cookies, 21 loaves of cinnamon swirl bread, and 112 valentine ornaments. This is before I was gluten free. It was delicious.
We didn’t know if $500 was a good goal when we set it. That’s a lot of cookies to bake. We vocally hoped to receive the full $2000 for the Auguste Family, but that seemed like a big stretch. Never, ever would we have believed what happened. God took our kids’ little dream and catapulted it far past what we could see.
Through the messy but earnest sale of cookies, bread, and Valentine ornaments people donated an astounding $7678.31. Are you kidding me? The Augustes got what they needed for their house and the rest went to Haiti Partners to help other families rebuild their lives after the earthquake.
There is more to this crazy story. Keep reading in Part 2 – Contagious Compassion.
You are loved.
This was our family’s first Compassion experiment. We didn’t think about having something like an intentional Family Compassion Focus until 2 years later. You can read that little story here.
To learn more about how your family could focus on Compassion this year, check out this simple two page calendar: Family Compassion Focus Calendar
© Aimee Fritz and Family Compassion Focus, 2014-2015