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spencer boutin at his clothing store, trendsetter's boutique Spencer Boutin bags donations for Haiti at his clothing store, Trendsetter's Fashion Boutique, in Nyack, New York. The Haitian-American turned his store into a way station for donations after last week's earthquake. (Photo Courtesy Kayla Rudess)

From Clothing Store to Way Station

New York businessman uses his boutique to collect donations for Haiti

By Kayla Rudess | January 19 , 2010

Spencer Boutin's clothing store in Nyack, New York, has been transformed into a warehouse full of food, medical supplies, and used clothes. Where he used to have racks of trendy fashions, he now has piles of boxes marked "baby formula" and "bandages."

Spencer is Haitian. He moved to the U.S. when he was a teenager, but still has many family members in Haiti. As soon as he heard about the earthquake there last week, he went into action.

"Because I'm not out there, I can't even imagine the magnitude of it all," he said. "I can't imagine what it's like for other people."

Spencer's first move was to contact musician Wyclef Jean's organization, Yéle Haiti. Jean is a Grammy-award winning musician who began the organization several years ago to help his home nation create jobs and opportunity.

With the help of Yéle Haiti, Spencer has turned Trendsetter's Fashion Boutique into a pick-up location for donations. Yéle sends vans on a daily basis to collect donated items, which are then flown to Haiti to help with the recovery process.

Spencer is lucky that his closest family members, who live along the coastline of the island nation, are safe. He communicated with his uncle on the Internet the night after the earthquake.

Some of his cousins, who live in Port-au-Prince, are missing. His uncle was preparing to drive into the nation's capital city to find them. Most of the earthquake damage happened within a 40-mile radius of Port-au-Prince, which was essentially the epicenter.

With the telephone wires down and most of the roads full of debris, a drive to the city is a terrifying proposition, Spencer says. But communication lines are also down and information is essential.

"The Haitian community is large in Nyack and in New York City," Spencer said. "So, everyone is calling and checking in on each other. It's devastating to talk to my family and friends. It's tough for everybody. All that I can do is console them; pray for the people in Haiti."

Some of Spencer's friends have lost family members. Many more have had no contact at all and are left wondering and praying that their loved ones are okay.
 
Turning his clothing business into a relief supply warehouse is what Spencer feels he must do in order to help his native country recover.

"We need to focus on Haiti now and in many months to come to get them through this horrible tragedy," Spencer said.
 
For more information on Wyclef Jean's organization, check out the website for Yéle Haiti.

CRISIS IN HAITI

Check out the Kid Reporters' special report Crisis in Haiti for more information on the country and how to help.

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