Monday, June 21, 2010

Haiti kin were hit, and Claude Hillel had a mission

Scant hours after the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake struck Haiti, Claude Hillel began planning a trip to his ancestral home.

Born in Montreal to a Haitian mother and Turkish/British father, Hillel, 46, a physical therapist, has lived in Manhattan for 15 years. Several of his relatives were in Port-au-Prince celebrating a 79-year-old aunt's birthday when the earthquake hit.

"There was this feeling of helplessness," Hillel said. "I just felt that I needed to be doing something."

He found out later that two young cousins and many family friends in the town of Bon Repos were killed in the cataclysm.

His efforts to volunteer with more than a dozen aid agencies on-line went nowhere, so Hillel went to the Eastern Mountain Sports store downtown, where the staff not only outfitted him for the trip but also gave him a "generous" discount on supplies.

While in the store he struck up a conversation with a man who was headed to Haiti. Some how the two ended up that night in a caravan of cars filled with volunteers and supplies bound for Fort Lauderdale, Fla. - still without any real plan on how they were going to get to the stricken island.

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