Heavy Help for Haiti - Disaster Relief
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SECTION: Disaster Relief

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Heavy Help for Haiti

By Kim Phelan

Article Date: 03-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

A snapshot of how the construction equipment industry has been responding with money and resources

Think “Haiti” and at least one of these media-induced images is instantly in your mind: Hundreds of thousands of hurting, hungry people; rubble, lots of rubble; relief team workers and medics; skids of supplies and food and criticism about poor distribution; long swaths of tent-covered landscape. But what receives less attention in the news is the role which the construction equipment industry has played to help bring order and organization, and delivery of aid where roads are in ruins or made impassable by crumbled buildings.
Numerous equipment manufacturing companies have responded to the call for help from disaster relief organizations, providing huge monetary contributions that include matching programs for employees and dealers, as well as sending equipment (and operators) to begin digging away at a country in chaos.
Dealers, too, have responded generously with financial donations, which in some cases have been matched by OEMs, or they themselves have created matching programs for their own employees. For example, employees of RDO Equipment Co., a John Deere dealership headquartered in Fargo, N.D., (and sister-company R.D. Offutt Co.) donated more than $9,000, which the companies matched for a total contribution of $18,614 to the American Red Cross. “I’m very proud of our employees and their donation efforts,” said RDO Equipment CEO Christi Offutt. “In a time of global crisis, it’s reassuring to know that our company is made up of individuals who were quick to help the hundreds of thousands of people who have been affected by this earthquake.”
Elsewhere, CED learned of other acts of generosity among North American dealers.
Another dealer matching program was established by Strongco, a Volvo dealership based in Mississauga, Ontario. The company “made a donation and then matched the donations of all employees,” said Chris Forbes from the Strongco HR department. “The Canadian government also matched all donations made by individuals. So in the end, for every dollar received from a Strongco employee, two additional dollars accumulated for Haitian relief efforts.”
Also in Canada, at Hewitt Equipment Limited, a Caterpillar dealership based in Pointe-Claire, Quebec, President Jim Hewitt informed his employees that the company was making a major contribution in cash and/or services to assist in disaster relief in Haiti, and urged individuals to donate to registered charities – he provided links to five that accept secure online donations: Canadian Red Cross, Unicef, Care/Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and World Food Program.
In Nevada, Cashman Equipment Co. President MaryKaye Cashman made a personal contribution of $5,000 toward the Caterpillar Foundation, which is exactly matching all financial donations to the American Red Cross by its corporate staff members, as well as Cat dealers and their employees. Cashman’s company issued a written memo with the Web site for online donations, and added: “If you are going to donate, make the most out of your money, and do it through Cat.”
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is helping Americans make the most of their donations, as well. According to Herb Johnson, tax partner, Clifton Gunderson LLP in Oak Brook, Ill., Congress passed a bill in January permitting cash donations for Haiti relief after Jan. 11 and before March 1, 2010, to be deductible on taxpayers’ returns if elected. Johnson adds the following reminders about charitable giving:
  • Contributions to domestic charitable organizations providing assistance in foreign lands are tax deductible provided the U.S. organization has control over how the funds are used
  • Contributions to foreign charitable organizations are generally not deductible nor are donations to specific persons or families
  • The taxpayer should have a bank record or a written confirmation of the contribution from the charity depicting the name, date and the amount of the contribution
  • Contributions are deductible in the year made
Making Headways, not Headlines
A mental picture about Haiti that may not readily accompany the others is one of violence. Exacerbating the devastation caused by the quake, armed gangs have long controlled portions of Haiti, including Cité Soleil, a suburb of capital city Port au Prince, where about 300,000 people live in poverty within roughly four square miles – it is one of the biggest slums in the Northern Hemisphere. The earthquake demolished a prison containing some of the most violent criminals, who were set free as prison walls came down.
It is in this context that relief workers as well as construction equipment company personnel venture in to
bring aid.
Wherever teams of foreigners are working, armed security must first be firmly established. Even without the crime factor, fear and hunger have bred desperation among Haitians, according to Tad Agoglia, founder of First Response Team of America, who spent about three weeks in Cité Soleil and Léogâne, also near Port au Prince. For this reason, the first project his team undertook upon their Jan. 26 arrival was to clear the rubble of a fallen wall on the site of a church/clinic/school facility – they then helped build a barbed-wire “wall” within which a safe haven for medical care and food distribution was created.
“The situation was very volatile,” Agoglia said. “People were so scared and hungry and thinking there wouldn’t be enough for everybody, they would just go for it themselves.” Once the area was secure, he added, advanced medical kits and food could be brought in.
Agoglia’s team stayed on that project site for a week, he said, and has since moved on to Léogâne to clear lots for hundreds of future homesites. First Response Team of America has committed to remain in Haiti for 12 months with a two-man team – an excavator operator and a dump truck operator, though Agoglia expects the duration could easily reach 18 months.
The dump truck was donated by The Pete Store (Peterbuilt Trucks), a trailer was provided by Towmaster, and the use of an excavator was donated by Cleveland Brothers Equipment Co., Inc, the Cat dealer headquartered in Pennsylvania.
“The vice president at Cleveland Brothers, Darrin Foulk, arranged to donate the use of an excavator for as long as we need it in a country where it’s not guaranteed he’ll get it back,” said Agoglia. “They have asked for nothing in return. That’s the kind of relationships I have with good businessmen who want to contribute what they can.”
He said the Caterpillar Foundation is also partnering with First Response Team in a fundraising campaign, matching donations for every dollar the nonprofit raises this year.
Information about the organization is available at www.firstresponseteam.org, which also links to Agoglia’s blog and Flickr photos. Other equipment companies support First Response Team, which primarily serves U.S. disaster sites, and Agoglia also works together (though as a separate entity) with numerous major worldwide disaster relief charities.
Agoglia began his nonprofit organization in 2007, taking all his savings from his successful disaster clean-up contracting business and reinvesting his money to create a free and immediate expert emergency disaster service for as long, and to as many Americans, as possible. He has not taken a salary from First Response Team of America, and lives on the road most nights of the year in order to provide services throughout the U.S. Haiti is his group’s first project outside of America.
“Be inspired and take action in the world you live in,” he said. “Be compelled to make a contribution to this life, one good deed at a time. Don’t think about it, don’t theorize about it – just do it.”
And many in the construction equipment industry are.

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