Rotary’s ShelterBox program delivers survival kits to disaster areas
Rotary assistant governor Mike Mira shows a Shelter Box tent and a stove that is delivered with it to disaster areas. GARY S. HATRICK
BY GARY S. HATRICK Tribune correspondent
Published: July 31, 2013
Updated: July 31, 2013 at 09:30 AM
ZEPHYRHILLS - The Zephyrhills Rotary Club helped with relief efforts for victims of an arms depot explosion in the Republic of Congo in April 2012 - all through a large green box. Along with other Rotary Clubs, the Zephyrhills Rotary donated money to ShelterBox USA, an international disaster relief organization that provides shelter, access to clean water and life-saving equipment immediately following disasters. When disaster strikes and homes are lost, Rotary clubs are among the organizations that seek to help disaster victims through a partnership with ShelterBox USA. The organization sends ShelterBoxes to the disaster areas to provide relief supplies for victims.
A ShelterBox is a large green box, usually weighing about 120 pounds, that contains a tent that can temporarily house about 10 people, along with a stove, dishes, pots and pans, a solar light, a water purification system, blankets and other items needed to survive. It also contains a backpack with coloring books and other activities to keep kids busy in the aftermath of disaster. At a recent Rotary meeting, local Rotary Assistant Governor Mike Mira showed club members photos of their ShelterBox tent "on the job" in the aftermath of the arms depot explosion. The club has since donated another box that has not yet been used. The boxes are sent out with trained emergency response teams, Mira said. "The emergency response teams are the key to the whole thing," Mira said. "We don't just send stuff, we're sent with the boxes." Team members get the boxes through customs and ensure that they go where they should, help erect the tents and show the people how to use the equipment. The initiative began as the project of a Rotary Club in Cornwall, England, in 2000, according to Mira. It was a small but growing effort to respond to worldwide needs, but its effectiveness blossomed after the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. In 2012, the ShelterBox USA organization became Rotary International's first project partner in the 108-year history of the organization. "Some of the projects are 50 boxes, sometimes 100 boxes, sometimes a couple thousand and sometimes 30,000," Mira said. Mira said the 2010 Haiti earthquake challenged ShelterBox USA to pursue greater disaster preparedness. "When the earthquake hit in Haiti in 2010, we actually sent 28,417 boxes and an additional 8,000 tents. We sent everything we had," he said. "We needed 100,000 of them, that's how devastating that earthquake was. There were people in old makeshift cardboard tents." The staggering need in Haiti caused ShelterBox USA and the Rotary Clubs to reassess their readiness and to set a goal of having 50,000 boxes ready to use at any time. A ShelterBox costs $1,000 to prepare and send. Rotary Clubs or individuals who donate a ShelterBox receive details on when and where that box has been used. ShelterBox USA has deployed 122,000 boxes since 2000. There is an average of about 24 disasters a year, Mira said. They range from natural occurrences such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and tsunamis to manmade disasters such as families displaced by conflict or accidents. "There's something happening all the time," he said. ShelterBox also responded in the United States after the tornadoes in Oklahoma earlier this year. The organization responded to needs in rural areas where people did not think they could take advantage of FEMA shelters because they needed to stay close to work or their farms. "People were living in their overturned cars," Mira said. Although ShelterBox tents are supposed to be temporary, Mira said there are people still living in them in Haiti. Anyone wishing to help donate to ShelterBox USA can learn how at the website shelterboxusa.org.