When a thief stole the charity collection jar at Bagel Land on NE 42nd and Fremont last week, he took more than just cash; gone with the $600 is a sense of community spirit.
Café owner Bernard Ferere is a native of Haiti who was gathering money for medicines destined to help impoverished families in the Carribean nation – the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
Ferere says he knows the thief, who was a regular customer often down on his luck and suffering from mental illness.
"There is no use arresting him, the money is already spent, there is nothing we can do about it, what good can it do?"
Rather, Ferere says he and his family are encouraging supporters of their medical relief project to donate online at the relief organization's website, www.hacaot.org.
Ferere and his two brothers started their medical relief project after returning to Haiti two years ago for their father's funeral. The brothers hadn't been in their home country for decades, and were shocked that the damage from Hurricane Katrina was still unrepaired.
"Last year Haiti was hit by three hurricanes, plus before that the civil war," he said. "It seems to me they're been pretty much out of luck for the past two years, and people are dying."
The Ferere brothers, working with Rotary International and the Red Cross put together a team of seven doctors to visit Haiti last summer.
Where the group had planned to serve a few hundred people, Ferere said, within just a few days they'd provided a wide array of medical treatments to more than 1,500 Haitians.
"We were set up to send another expedition this November, the feeling was so positive from everybody," Ferrere said. While the expedition will go on, the theft of the medicine money has served as an emotional setback as well as an organizational one – Ferrere says he may not continue to collect donations from his bagel shop for security reasons.
"We're trying to raise funds as much as we can, and of course with the economy we're trying to do the best we can," he said.
"What kills me is even $600 or $700 is so much for the people, all of the money goes to medicine.
"Over here all the people are trying to pay their health insurance or their mortgage, but over there people are dying, and this small amount of money is like $6,000 in Haiti."
For more information on donating to Ferere's charity, go to www.hacaot.org, or contact him at Bagel Land, 4118 NE Fremont St., 503-249-2848.