Greensburg Salem teen pitches in to aid Haiti
Thanks to Katlyn Swierczynski, a truckload of linens made its way from Greensburg to a shipping container in Scranton, destined to soon arrive in hurricane-ravaged Haiti.
When the Greensburg Salem middle-schooler heard about the impending Hurricane Matthew, she knew the high water and devastated homes would lead to disease, particularly cholera.
She decided to take action.
Hygienic sheets, blankets and towels can make all the difference in stopping the spread of sickness, so Swierczynski, 13, solicited donations from schools and businesses across Westmoreland County.
She hoped for enough bedding and towels to fill her mother’s van. She got enough to fill a26-foot U-Haul moving truck.
“I never thought I would get as many as I did,” she said.
Swierczynski worked with St. Luke’s Foundation for Haiti, a U.S.-based charity that supports programs of Fondation St. Luc on the impoverished island nation.
She has cared about the Caribbean country for a long time. Her mom, Kim Beck, visits Haiti several times a year to volunteer as a nurse with St. Luke’s.
In July, Swierczynski accompanied her mother for the first time. Six other Westmoreland County teens also made the trip.
She saw Haiti was in desperate need of help even before its latest natural disaster.
“The country was really poor, and there was trash everywhere. It was like the 2010 earthquake had just hit yesterday,” Swierczynski said, referring to the 7.0-magnitude quake that killed more than 160,000 people and displaced 1.5 million others.
Haiti has a population of more than 10 million residents.
While there this summer, Swierczynski cleaned homes and volunteered in hospitals and churches.
Beck said her daughter has always loved helping people.
“Proud would be an understatement. She amazes me with how dedicated she is to this organization,” she said.
Haiti needs all the help it can get, said Luke Hingson, president of Brother’s Brother Foundation, an international charity based on Pittsburgh’s North Side that has done work in the country.
“If you have homes that have been damaged and destroyed, you have a lot of stuff that got lost or moldy or whatever, and you have a lot of people who have to go to these evacuation centers,” Hingson said.
Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti as a Category 4 storm Oct. 4, killing at least 550 and sending more than 175,000 to shelters.
More than 2 million people needed some kind of assistance after the storm, Hingson said.
“If you think of Haiti as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there’s a lot of things people could have used before the hurricane,” he said.
Beck knows the need well. She said the biggest impacts of the hurricane, like disease, will continue long after headlines fade.
“The longstanding, long-lasting effects are an even bigger problem,” she said.
Her daughter plans to return next summer. Thanks to her efforts there, many Haitians will sleep a bit easier in the interim.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or [email protected].