By Starrla Cray
LORETTO, MN Service is second nature for Loretto 22-year-old Eric DeLuca, who recently spent three weeks in Haiti delivering ShelterBox tents to earthquake victims.
“This is something I can really relate to, and it’s a cause I feel strongly about supporting,” DeLuca said.
A roof and a comfortable place to sleep are easy to take for granted, but they are luxuries many Haitians have had to do without.
Each ShelterBox tent is designed to provide temporary housing for about 10 disaster-relief victims.
“It bridges the gap between the disaster and when they can rebuild,” DeLuca said.
In other disaster scenarios, the ShelterBox teams typically deliver the tents immediately after the incident occurs.
“In Haiti, it’s a little different,” DeLuca said. He arrived in Haiti the end of May, almost five months after the earthquake hit.
“There’s still emergency need, which is almost unheard of,” DeLuca said. “They’re still struggling to survive and make it to the next day.”
DeLuca is one of many ShelterBox response team members who have delivered the tents, along with other life-saving supplies.
“We’ve had teams continuously there since 48 hours after the earthquake,” DeLuca said. To date, ShelterBox has distributed over 20,000 tents, enough to house about 200,000 people affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
Some areas have only received aid within the last month.
At one point during DeLuca’s trip, his team loaded ShelterBox tents onto a Russian UN humanitarian air service helicopter. With the help of the United Nations World Food Programme, the team was able to get 121 tents into Beloc, a remote village in the mountains southwest of Port Au Prince.
“The village of Beloc, where we delivered these tents to, had received no aid since the earthquake,” DeLuca noted. “And, with their location in the mountains, these people were especially susceptible to heavy rains and strong winds.”
Haiti is entering its hurricane season, but many people are still living under makeshift shelters consisting of cloth sheets or tarpaulins. ShelterBox tents, however, are designed to withstand high-speed winds and extreme elements.
DeLuca and his team stayed in the tents during their time in Haiti. They are of extremely high quality, and although they’re only designed to last six months to a year, DeLuca said he’s seen them last more than two years.
Former Miami Heat professional basketball player Alonzo Mourning also stayed in the tents.
“His foundation was working in Haiti to help fund Project Medishare, an emergency field hospital set up by the University of Miami on the airport in Port Au Prince,” DeLuca noted.
According to DeLuca, Mourning, who is nearly seven feet tall, was impressed with the tent quality, as well.
“[He] took one step into the ShelterBox tent and turned to me, saying, ‘Wow, this is a really big tent,’” DeLuca noted. “If it is big enough for Alonzo Mourning, it is big enough to provide shelter, warmth, dignity, and comfort to these people affected by the earthquake.”
A ShelterBox typically contains elements not provided by any other relief organization, including a stove, blankets, mosquito nets, and a water filtration system, among other things.
The items that are included in the box depend on the type of disaster, DeLuca said.
“The main need in Haiti was just shelter,” he added.
ShelterBox volunteers do demonstrations and training in partnership with other charities and organizations, in order to effectively distribute and set up the supplies.
“We work to ensure that all our donations are being seen through to the end,” DeLuca said.
DeLuca’s trip to Haiti wasn’t his first overseas experience. In high school, he spent a year as an exchange student in South Africa, and he’s also done volunteer work in Equador and Guatemala, and the Congo.
DeLuca graduated this spring from St. John’s University in Collegeville with a degree in environmental studies and peace and conflict studies.
Before he graduated, DeLuca was one of 12 students at his college honored for exemplary leadership at the 2010 Inspiring Leaders recognition banquet.
In July, DeLuca plans to go to Fort Collins, CO, to do disaster preparedness work with AmeriCorps.
Becoming a ShelterBox response team member was a competitive process, DeLuca said. He went through an interview process in Atlanta, an assessment in Florida, and then to the United Kingdom for training.
Trainers test participants to see how well they think on their feet, and how they respond to stress.
“They’ll wake you up at 2 a.m., give you a compass, and tell you to go hike somewhere,” DeLuca said.
To learn more about ShelterBox, or to donate to the cause, go to www.shelterboxusa.org.