ShelterBoxes provide tents and other supplies necessary for survival following a disaster. Photo courtesy of ShelterBox

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For many, a ShelterBox is home

By January 17, 2011

ShelterBoxes provide tents and other supplies necessary for survival following a disaster. Photo courtesy of ShelterBox

When a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12, 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving millions more homeless, the international disaster relief organization ShelterBox  delivered aid to alleviate the misery of families in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area.

A ShelterBox Response Team was dispatched on Jan. 13 and 930 ShelterBoxes were enroute, with 1,000 being packed by volunteers at ShelterBox headquarters in Cornwall, England. The ShelterBoxes were flown free courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airlines. Sir Richard Branson, president of Virgin Atlantic, visited Haiti personally and reported, “Everyone who has seen the sheer destruction in Haiti over the last few days will have been moved to help in any way they can.” Tom Henderson, founder of ShelterBox, said, “Support at this time is crucial.”

By Jan. 17, 1,700 ShelterBoxes had been sent, with another 1,600 following that week. As of Dec. 31, 2010, more than 300,000 Haitians are living in Shelterbox tents.

Tom Henderson, a Rotarian and former Royal Navy search and rescue diver, noticed that aid to victims of most disasters was in the form of food and medicine, but people had no proper shelter. He launched ShelterBox in 2000 and it became the millennial project of his Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard in Cornwall, England.

ShelterBox teams have worked on every continent, responding to earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, volcanoes and conflicts. Rotarian support contributes an estimated 50 percent of ShelterBox donations. In 2009 ShelterBox was recognized as a Global Rotary Club Project. Rotary logos are on all ShelterBoxes, tents, blankets and ancillary materials.

The contents of each ShelterBox varies with the nature of the disaster. Each box will contain a disaster relief tent for up to 10 people. The custom-made tents are designed to withstand extreme temperatures, high winds and heavy rainfall. Each tent has privacy partitions that allow the recipients to divide the space to suit them.

The boxes also contain a children’s pack containing drawing books, crayons and pens. If necessary, survival equipment such as mosquito nets and water purification supplies are included to prevent illness. Basic tools such as hammers, axes, saws, trenching shovels, hoe heads, pliers and wire cutters allow recipients to improve their immediate environment and repair or rebuild their homes. Wood-burning or multi-fuel stoves allow cooking, and utensils are included. The box itself serves many uses, including storage or even as a baby crib.

For every $1,000 raised a ShelterBox is deployed for a family of up to 10 people.

When Bill Tobin assumed the presidency of the Rotary Club of El Dorado Hills on July 1, 2010, one of his primary interests was the international project to help the victims of disasters worldwide through support of the ShelterBox program.

In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake he challenged neighboring Rotary clubs to help raise money to donate to the project. His challenge was answered and nearly $20,000 was collected. At his own club’s breakfast meeting, President Tobin passed not one, but three, hats which were generously filled.

Jim Carriere, a member of the Board of Directors for ShelterBox USA, was invited to speak to the El Dorado Hills Rotary. He brought two ShelterBoxes, which were set up in the community park the evening before. Members of Cub Scout Pack 465 and their leaders spent the night in the tents and were guests of the Rotary Club for breakfast the next morning. They reported they had a comfortable night’s sleep.

Tobin said he has become personally committed to the program and has since become a representative for ShelterBox.

A year after the earthquake in Haiti, the situation is still desperate. Aid workers say that ShelterBox will be essential to provide homes for thousands of families for another year or more. In addition, ShelterBox response teams are distributing aid to disaster sites in Pakistan, Columbia and Panama, to support the people who lost everything in those countries due to flooding.

ShelterBox is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization; donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. For more information contact Bill Tobin by e-mail at: [email protected].

Roberta Long


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