It started with water. And food snacks. And paper towels. It progressed to hardware. Faucets. Shower heads. Over the years, it has morphed into school supplies, ink cartridges, acne cream.
There’s a lot of talk about supply chain these days. But at our orphanage, the supply chain has been chugging for more than 12 years. It begins with us shopping, continues with us packing endless duffel bags, and culminates in our arrival in a van or pick-up truck, unloading the goods as the kids circle anxiously and loudly volunteer to carry it all.
Socks, deodorant, boys underwear, educational videos…
The simple truth is, there are many things you can’t buy in Haiti. Other things are crazy expensive. Haiti is an island, so everything is imported. That raises costs. And some of what is sold there is inferior quality to what can be purchased in the U.S.
All of which launched us into a human delivery service. FedEx has nothing on us.
Crayons, aspirin, coffee maker, water filter….
Every month, depending on how many are coming with us, we maximize luggage allowance to incorporate the latest supply needs. We know every airline, every baggage limit. Over the years, we have made friends with porters and handlers who will shrug it off if we are one or two pounds over. It’s amazing when you say, “This is all for an orphanage” how nice some people can be.
Batteries, extension cords, chalk, cooking spices…
The first haul we made was our initial trip to Haiti in early 2010. It was just after the earthquake, and we were told what was most needed were the basics: water, snacks, sanitary items, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap.
In those days, you landed, you took your stuff off the plane, and you pretty much walked out. Operations at the airport were threadbare due to the earthquake, and few people bothered with customs or checking your luggage. This was when the Detroit Muscle Crew, a group of volunteer tradesmen from the Motor City area, began making trip after trip to our orphanage thanks to the generosity of Roger Penske and Art Van Elslander, who let us piggyback on their planes.
We stuffed everything from tile saws to lumber in those cargo holds. And no one ever asked us a thing when we landed.
Paintbrushes, PVC pipe, screwdrivers, twine…
As the years passed, our needs grew beyond construction. It was clear that certain things made more sense to buy in the States — reams of paper, computer cords, monitors, certain snack foods. We began to load every bag with as much as possible.
Then, when our school really got going, the supply needs tripled.
Math books, erasable markers, instructional DVDs, small plastic chairs…
Slowly but surely, month by month, we built up a supply closet, simply from taking one trip after another. Any visitor who joined us was asked to push their baggage to the limit. Periodically, when we are fortunate enough to be offered trips on private planes — the Masco corporation, for example, was kind enough to donate multiple flights — we took full advantage of the space, stuffing the empty seats with duffel bags.
Mattress protectors, insect repellent, flip-flops, hammers…
These days, we have become quite specialized. Thanks to new programs and incredible volunteer instructors, you might find us filling our suitcases with art supplies, ribbons, Portuguese language books, basketballs. The music program has multiplied the supply needs, and airplane by airplane, we have built a small orchestra.
Violins, guitars, keyboards, ukuleles…
We’ve even managed to construct drum sets, one piece at a time. And since Dennis Tini, our musical director, is also a safety and CPR expert, we have brought with us fire blankets, emergency equipment, and even a full-sized mannequin to practice life-saving. I’m not making this up.
There is pretty much nothing we won’t try to bring down if it enhances our kids’ lives. Is it heavy? Yes. Do we appear ridiculous? Often.
But the look on the kids’ faces when we pull in and unload is priceless. There is a sense of wonder. And you realize what a rare privilege it is to live in the world of FedEx, Amazon delivery and 24-hour supermarkets.
You realize how many people go through their days with nothing new being introduced. Nothing to unwrap. Little to open.
Our kids gather in the kitchen or the supply room and help us unpack rolls of paper towels, bathing suits, soccer nets, ice packs, guitar strings, silverware or boxes of quinoa. They marvel. They “ooh” and “ahh.” They say, “Is that for us?” We say, “Who else would it be for?”
We deliver. They smile. The supply chain chugs along. And it’s all worth it.
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