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Minnesotans launch Haiti aid efforts

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A makeshift camp for quake survivors
A makeshift camp fopr quake survivors in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 14, 2010.
AP Photo

Thousands of miles away from the disaster, Minnesotans were doing what they could to help the people of Haiti after an earthquake left the country's capital city in ruins. 

People offered donations and prayers, while local aid organizations worked to mobilize teams of people to help in the relief effort. 

Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley plans to transform itself into a huge food-packing facility on Saturday, with the goal of packing  one million meals for struggling Haitians in a week.  

The effort will be coordinated by Feed My Starving Children, a Christian hunger relief agency. The organization has asked community members to donate money or volunteer to package the meals at the church. 

St. Mark's Cathedral in Minneapolis plans to hold a prayer service Thursday in support of the victims of the massive earthquake in Haiti. 

The service at 7 p.m. will be presided over by Minnesota's presiding Episcopal bishop, the Rev. James Jelinek. The bishop visited Haiti in 2008 and says he was impressed by the hopefulness and faithfulness of the Haitian people. 

Like many organizations, the Episcopal Diocese established an earthquake relief fund. Other organizations, including the Twin Cities-based American Refugee Committee and the Twin Cities chapter of the American Red Cross, were planning to send people to Haiti. 

Organizers with World Wide Village, a St. Paul-based non-profit, planned to hold a local meeting on Friday to coordinate relief efforts with other Minnesota agencies. The meeting will take place at 1 p.m. at Minnesota Teen Challenge in Minneapolis. 

Randy Mortensen, president of World Wide Village, said he expects 25-30 groups to participate. Most of the groups have either staff or partners working in Haiti already, he said. 

"The issue now is coordination of efforts," Mortensen said. "In many of our offices the phones are ringing off the hook with people who desire to help." 

Because of the chaos in Haiti, the groups felt it would be easier to work from Minnesota to figure out ways to work together and eliminate duplication of efforts, Mortensen said. "Even on the best of days in Haiti coordination is very challenging," he said. 

One of the biggest needs in Haiti is medical personnel and supplies. World Wide Village plans to send a medical team to Haiti as early as Monday. And a Minnesota medical organization has stepped up efforts to collect donations and medical supplies to take to Haiti next week. 

Project Haiti, which works a Haitian hospital in the town of Pignon, plans to send medical supplies there to help the hospital with increased demand. 

The hospital in Pignon, located about 100 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince, was treating patients injured in Tuesday's earthquake because hospitals in Port-au-Prince had been damaged or destroyed. 

"They're busy now and getting busier," Dr. Howard McCollister, a surgeon in Crosby that leads Project Haiti, told MPR's Morning Edition. 

McCollister said the group plans to ship supplies to Miami and then to Pignon next week. The supplies will be vital for the doctors and nurses treating the injured, he said. 

"The problem with an earthquake situation is the most consistent injuries tend to be crush injuries," McCollister said, adding that they have a "serious and terrible effect" on the rest of the body. "It's not just about surgery, it's not just about doing the amputations, but there's going to be very extensive medical treatment that has to go along with that." 

(MPR's Phil Picardi, Madeleine Baran and The Associated Press contributed to this story.)