A 7.0-magnitude earthquake hit the island nation of Haiti Jan. 12, nearly destroying its capitol Port-au-Prince and affecting a third of its entire population.
"After we landed (in Florida), we received the news of what happened," recalled Dave Neeley, pastor of Cornerstone and one of the nine returning from Haiti.
That is when they tuned in to see the destruction caused by the quake, which came only months after four powerful storms ripped through the poverty-stricken island and obliterated vital crops.
"There is a great need on the island," he said.
The group had traveled to Cap-Ha*tien for a one-week visit to orphanages, schools and missionaries.
"Cap-Ha*tien felt some of the tremors of the quake," Neeley said. "All the missionaries we work with are safe and sound."
Neeley's interest in helping the impoverished nation began six years ago through a program called Christmas Bags for Haiti and a missionary named Stan Curtis.
Curtis, who resides in Cloverdale, has been making trips to Haiti for more than 20 years. He is a team coordinator with Missionary Flight International and takes two to four containers to Haiti per year.
Curtis said they have had an "overwhelming" response for aid to Haiti.
In December 2008, Neeley took his first trip to Haiti. During that visit, he saw a small Haitian boy in only a diaper searching a pile of garbage along the road for food. Next to the little boy was a dog, also looking for something to eat.
"It was heartbreaking," he said.
The walls of Neeley's office at Cornerstone are filled with photos from his visit to Haiti. They depict the impoverished way of life -- houses constructed of sticks and mud, piles of trash along the roadways and a small group of children fortunate enough to attend school.
"It is very expensive for them to go to school," said Neeley.
The average income of a Haitian family is $300 (in U.S. dollars) annually. It costs nearly $150 per year for an education and the children are required to wear uniforms.
"It is difficult for families to afford school, let alone the uniforms," said Neeley.
It was also during his first visit Neeley met a boy named Ricardo. When Ricardo received his "Christmas" bag from the group, he was very excited about the tube of toothpaste inside it.
"We had to tell him not to eat it," said Neeley. "It was like gold to him."
Since returning to Greencastle last week, Neeley and his church have been busy putting together items for a 40-foot container to be shipped to Haiti.
"We want to open eyes to the need that exists," he said.
They are looking for donations of dry beans, spaghetti noodles, peanut butter, toothpaste and powdered milk. Monetary donations will also be accepted to help defray the cost of nearly $16,000 to ship the container.
Donations can be dropped off at Cornerstone, 218 S. Bloomington St., from 1 to 7 p.m. today. Monetary donations can be made out to Cornerstone Baptist Church.
"One-hundred percent of the container will go to the missionaries, pastors and orphanages in Cap-Ha*tien," said Neeley.
Many of the people living in Port-au-Prince have traveled to Cap-Ha*tien looking for help.
For questions or more information on how to help, call the church at 655-1017. Residents interested in reading updates from missionaries in Haiti can visit www.christmasbagsforhaiti.com.