Sept 2014 – A social media effort that brought Missoulians to the aid of typhoon victims in the Philippines last November has now helped more than 100,000 people.

“We wanted the people of Missoula to know it was more than just a one-time effort,” said Child United director Christine Umayam, who was in town to thank donation-drive organizer June Noel. “We saw where these donations were going to. It took us a week to unpack everything and distribute it everywhere.”

Washington Corp. web designer Noel felt a personal pull to do something about Typhoon Haiyan when it damaged 10 provinces in her family’s homeland on Nov. 8, 2013.

“I put out a call for donations on Facebook, and then friends started sharing it on their Facebook pages,” Noel said. “The next day, I had to start setting up drop-off locations, because there were too many people donating for me to get to.”

In the process, Noel learned some of the behind-the-scenes logistics for a successful disaster donation effort. For example, someone donated two weeks of warehouse space to store all the clothing, toiletries, tarps and other items while she arranged transport to the Philippines. Watkins-Shepard Trucking gave semitrailer space to move it to Seattle. And getting in touch with Child United in Seattle connected the overseas link.

“I was trying to get the stuff closer to a city where there’s a large Filipino community,” Noel said. “I found Child United’s website and Facebook page, and left a message. Christine called me back in about an hour.”

Child United was founded in 2007 with a mission to improve educational opportunities for children in seven countries around the world. In 2009, it added disaster relief to its capabilities. Umayam and colleague Larcy Douglas also have family ties to the Philippines, so the typhoon quickly became a personal as well as moral priority for the organization.

“That actually helped us as well,” Douglas said. “Because we had family and friends there, we had better connections getting into the affected areas.”

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Missoula’s Good Food Store employees contributed about $3,500 in cash to Noel’s project, and local residents added a 40-foot shipping container’s worth of relief supplies. In addition, the Washington Corp.-affiliated SEASPAN Corp. had many shipping crew workers with ties to the Philippines who made contributions. Thanks to Noel’s networking, the Phyllis and Dennis Washington Foundation agreed to match the amount with a $35,000 donation of its own.

“As a foundation, it’s extremely important to reward those who are taking the initiative to give back,” Washington Foundation executive director Mike Halligan said. “June’s social media effort just ballooned to such a massive thing, it was important to match and double her effort.”

The company gave Noel two weeks to concentrate on gathering and organizing the donations. Other co-workers also gave time in the crucial final days of boxing and inventorying the load for shipment.

Child United arranged for Noel to travel to the Philippines on one of the aid distribution visits to see firsthand how her donations were getting put to use. Umayam said about 44,000 families have been made homeless, and are slowly moving from temporary housing to permanent communities.

Child United is now busy converting shipping containers into community learning centers, which provide a place with books, computers and electricity and light to the temporary shelter camps that still lack running water.

“We wanted to come and personally thank June and the Washington Corp. for being such a huge success for us,” Douglas said. “We just returned from our third visit in August, and wanted people in Missoula to see what has happened to their donations.”

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at rchaney@missoulian.com.

 

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