Mashpee Business Uses Connections To Help Haiti
By: Elsa H. Partan
When local business owner Ryan Hewson began exporting bottled water to the Dominican Republic last October, he did not imagine he was preparing to help Haiti.
Mr. Hewson, the co-owner of the outdoor gear store Mocean in Mashpee Commons, and his brother had done some market research and found that there was demand for bottled water in the Dominican Republic. After the earthquake, their business opportunity took on a greater significance as Mr. Hewson watched images of desperately thirsty people in the adjacent country.
“I thought, ‘Wow, we’re already sending water to that same island,’ ” Mr. Hewson said.
Last week, Mr. Hewson’s shipping container arrived at a port in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. On Thursday, instead of using the water to stock grocery store shelves there, he decided to divert half of it, 17,280 bottles, to Haiti. He would give the water away rather than selling it, taking a loss of about $3,400. “It was meant for business, but we changed our minds,” he said.
Mr. Hewson is one of many Cape Cod residents who have donated money and goods after the earthquake on January 12. But unlike most, Mr. Hewson has a rare business connection to the island that may be immediately useful.
“It turns out that knowing the interior dimensions of international shipping containers helps,” he said. “We’re just shifting our knowledge and putting it to good use.”
Despite that knowledge, Mr. Hewson found that transporting water between the two countries has been difficult. He sought help from GO Ministries Inc., a Kentucky-based Christian missionary group founded in 1995 with staff in both the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Within days, GO Ministries had assembled a troop of private pilots who volunteered their small aircraft to ship aid between Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, and Jacmel, Haiti, bypassing bottlenecks at larger Haitian airports. “We are able to fill the gap until the big guys like the Red Cross get here,” said Jeff Rogers, executive director of partnerships and education in a telephone interview from Louisville, Kentucky. “One of our pilots got help from about 15 Haitians who cleared the end of an overgrown runway with machetes,” Mr. Rogers said. “Haiti needs food, water, and medical supplies now, and we’re getting it there any way we can.”
Mr. Rogers said the pilots are currently making between three and six trips a day with up to 3,000 pounds of food, water, and first aid supplies in each shipment. His staff is also sending aid on Dominican Navy ships that depart from Pedernales, Dominican Republic, and arrive in Jacmel. The water Mr. Hewson donated is being trucked from Santo Domingo to Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, where it will be divided into smaller sections and flown by the volunteer pilots or sent by Dominican Navy ships, according to Mr. Rogers.
Once he had found a way to transport the water the last few hundred miles, Mr. Hewson thought other people on Cape Cod would want to send aid, too. Donating cash is important, he said, but it lacks the satisfaction of doing something concrete. “I think Cape Cod wants to do something real and tangible, something they can see right away,” he said. Mr. Hewson is asking people to donate cases of bottled water that he will collect at his store in Mashpee Commons and ship to Haiti. He is encouraging them to attach a message of love and support for the recipients. “We’re giving people the opportunity to get involved for less than $8,” he said.
Trinity Christian Academy in Barnstable has started collecting cases of bottled water and radio station RENEW FM (WRYP) has agreed to air public service announcements about the effort.
This is not Mr. Hewson’s first relief effort. After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast, Mr. Hewson spearheaded the effort among Mashpee Commons shops to send clothing, personal hygiene items, and children’s toys and books.
Mr. Hewson said people may also donate more expensive items if they are not satisfied sending water to Haiti. He is collecting tents, tarps, rope, and diapers to send to a related charity, the Hands and Feet Project, a Kentucky-based Christian organization with two orphanages in Haiti.
Reached in Kentucky on his cellphone, Hands and Feet Project co-founder William R. McGinniss said both orphanages survived the earthquake without collapsing and that all 75 children are safe. However, they need the supplies Mr. Hewson is collecting because Haiti’s infrastructure is in shambles, and it is unclear when supplies will arrive.
Mr. McGinniss said the orphanages may also see an influx of new children, although that has not happened on a large scale yet. “We are working closely with the mayor of Jacmel to figure out which children are true orphans from the disaster and which ones just can’t find their families yet,” he said.
Both Mr. McGinniss and Mr. Rogers praised Mr. Hewson’s effort to get water and specific supplies to Haiti. “When a businessman does something like that, within his own peer group, he’s challenging apathy. I know Ryan doesn’t want any of the credit, but he’s a role model,” Mr. Rogers said.
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