News from "House of Hope" and the Haiti Income Assistance Tax Relief Act

Polycarpe Joseph is Director of FOPJ (Ecumenical Foundation for Peace and Justice). Through Global Ministries and Church World Service, Week of Compassion supports FOPJ´s program "House of Hope," a community-based educational program for children performing domestic work ('restavek' work) in Carrefour-Filles, Port-Au-Prince.  This account was sent to Week of Compassion by Martin Coria, Church World Service Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean, who recently met with Polycarpe. 

Though he is still coming to terms with the earthquake himself, Polycarpe Josephas and his 17-person staff team are still finding the ability to serve others in need day after day. All but two members of the staff lost their homes, and are making do living on the streets and in parks. Every day in the middle of the street and surrounded by destroyed buildings, they prepare and serve a hot meal for some 600 people. "We need rice, beans, sardines, cooking oil, sugar and water. Thanks to another CWS partner, SKDE, we just found a safe place where to store food items. Before, we had to keep small quantities in different places for security reasons.

"Some food items can be purchased in Port-au-Prince but prices skyrocketed. A sack of rice cost $200 before the Earthquake, $400 two days ago. We need 3 (50 kilogram) sacks of rice to feed 600 people every day."

FOPJ is a community-based project that provides education and recreational activities for 125 children (aged 6-13) working as domestic servants for families in this neighborhood of Port-Au-Prince. FOPJ was part of a 15-member network of Haitian agencies with similar programs serving more than 2000 children.

When the earthquake struck, dozens House of Hope children were at the program. Today the building is destroyed but all 125 children served by the program are alive. "Other colleague projects of our network have lost between 20 and 60 kids," Polycarpe reports, "The roofs of classrooms full of kids fell down."

Polycarpe went on to say "Food is essential, but we must also work on emotional recovery very soon, now. There will be a lot of people with mental illnesses as a result of the earthquake".

That is why this week a group of Haitian volunteer social workers started supporting FOPJ staff in working with children.

"Children should play, sing, dance." Because lack of facilities, activities are taking place in open spaces.

Polycarpe has heard many people in Port-Au-Prince express a desire to leave the desolation of Port-Au-Prince and move to the countryside. In order to do so, they need support-both for transportation and for settling in the host communities.

Among the many things that have made an impression on Polycarpe is the rapid response and signs of solidarity from partners in the Dominican Republic.  He also mentioned the important role of faith and churches now and in the future of Haiti, "the churches have to do important theological and pastoral work. God is life and hope. God loves life; God doesn't destroy it. Churches need to work to promote people´s active engagement in reconstruction efforts and healing processes.

"And we all need to pray for dry weather because heavy rains in Port-Au-Prince would be a second disaster." 

Through Church World Service and Global Ministries, Week of Compassion has helped FOPJ with emergency funds to purchase food items locally, donated food items transported from Santo Domingo, and support for emotional and psychological recovery of the staff. CWS health and school kits and larger quantities of food are being transported to FOPJ, now that a safe place for storage has been established.

Haiti Assistance Income Tax Relief Act

The Senate and House have unanimously passed legislation that allows taxpayers to deduct cash charitable contributions to aid victims of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The bill was signed by President Obama on Friday, January 22, 2010.  This includes contributions to local congregations designated for Week of Compassion Haiti Relief. 

Under this law, a donor who makes a cash contribution for the relief of Haitian earthquake victims after January 11, 2010 and before March 1, 2010 can take a tax deduction for the gift for either 2009 or 2010. The law refers to this as an "acceleration" of the contribution deduction, since it may be claimed on the tax return filed for 2009, even though given in 2010. 

Churches that receive gifts from members are not required to issue a second contribution letter to members who choose the accelerated method.  Members who make gifts to their church for Week of Compassion Haiti Relief and who choose the accelerated contribution method are required to keep their own record of the contribution.  When their 2010 statement is issued from the congregation, the donor is expected to modify their deduction on their 2010 Tax Forms.  Members who took the accelerated method are advised to keep a second copy of the 2010 contribution statement from the church with their 2009 tax records.   

The law addresses the Federal contribution deduction. Donors will need to check their own states' for conformity and should consult with their tax advisor.