Vickroy: Frankfort businessman amazed at Southland’s ongoing compassion toward Haitians
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy August 5, 2013 10:16PM
Updated: September 7, 2013 6:29AM
Recently, an elderly man rang the bell at John Shattuck’s Frankfort house and handed him a bag of 50 used pencils.
“Can anybody use these?” the man said.
“Absolutely,” Shattuck said.
Those pencils, along with French textbooks, baseball gloves, medical supplies and more than 1,500 hand-crafted and prayed-over burial palls were loaded onto a cargo container recently, destined for schools and hospitals near the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
Most of the items were donated by people who live in and around the Southland. Other materials came from the west and north suburbs and Chicago.
So if your faith in humanity needs a bit of restoration, talk with Shattuck.
It has been more than two years since a devastating earthquake dealt yet another blow to the impoverished nation of Haiti, and just as long since Shattuck began collecting essentials to help ease the suffering. He does it because there is a need there, and, he said, because there is a willingness to help here.
Word spread quickly of Shattuck’s humanitarian efforts. Before long, he had donors all over the country, and countries all over the world taking an interest in his work.
It has been more than a year since the SouthtownStar, which has covered Shattuck’s work from the beginning, accompanied him to Haiti to follow the trail of compassion from the homes, churches and classrooms here in the Southland to the hospitals, homes and classrooms run by the Haiti chapter of Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, a nonprofit network of orphanages throughout the developing world.
Shattuck barely can keep up with the contributions. His garage, family room, and, sometimes in the case of a port-a-potty donation, even his driveway are overrun with goods.
And they just keep coming.
“It just keeps getting bigger,” Shattuck said. “Not a single day goes by when someone isn’t dropping something off on my porch.”
Earlier this year, when Shattuck announced that he was going to start shipping school and medical supplies to Niger in Sub-Saharan Africa, the list of donors swelled. Shattuck was surprised.
“I didn’t think anyone knew where Niger was,” he said.
A big part of this most recent Haiti shipment, the 29th container that Shattuck has filled and shipped into Port-au-Prince, is 450 boxes of school supplies donated by the schools in Orland District 135.
When teachers or administrators ask how they might help, Shattuck gives them bins, which are placed in classrooms and filled by students, teachers and friends of friends. The District 135 bins were filled with notebooks, binders, folders and other school supplies.
All of it is destined for the Academy for Peace and Justice, a high school constructed by Artists for Peace and Justice, a nonprofit, celebrity-laden group that addresses social justice and poverty issues around the world. Celebrities such as Ben Stiller, Barbara Streisand, Russell Crowe and Paul Haggis are members. So is Shattuck.
The academy is the first high school built in Haiti since the earthquake. It recently added a third addition and now serves more than 2,000 students.
Shattuck said many of the desks, supplies and musical instruments already in the school came from the Chicago area. Another donation is expected soon from the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Project Linus, headquartered in Bloomington, Ill., with an office in New Lenox, donated baby blankets as well as fabric and other raw materials for the workers in a sewing shop in Haiti run by Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos in Francisville.
“We don’t just give people things; we teach them how to help themselves, too,” Shattuck said.
And parishioners at churches across the Southland, including Zion Lutheran in Tinley Park and St. Dennis in Lockport, created and decorated more than 1,500 burial palls that will be used by the Rev. Rick Frechette, who has served in Haiti for more than 20 years.
Frechette visits the public morgue in Port-au-Prince weekly to collect the bodies of Haiti’s unnamed and forgotten dead. He transports the adults and children, many of whom came from families that could not afford to bury them, to a pauper’s cemetery along the coast and gives them a proper funeral. Each body is blessed and covered with a handmade burial pall that was decorated and prayed over here in the Southland.
Among those helping to load the cargo container on Aug. 1 was Eric Hargarten, a former Air Force staff sergeant and current cross trainer who lives in New Lenox. Hargarten and his friend, Brendan Ridings, recently started a foundation called Lifting Hope for Haiti. They raise money through fitness competitions.
Hargarten said the idea to help the needy came to him while he was serving in Iraq.
“I saw what poverty and an oppressive government can do to people,” he said.
Jeffrey LaMorte — who owns Jeffrey LaMorte Salons and Day Spas in Frankfort, Orland Park and New Lenox — has been helping Shattuck since he began collecting for Haiti.
“Right after the earthquake, I felt compelled to do something,” LaMorte said. “But I’ve continued to do it because I get as much out of it as the people I help. I like the feeling that comes from doing something worthwhile, and I like working with motivating people.”
Also included in this shipment were 30 baseball gloves donated by Ray Grzesiak, who owns several Charter Fitness clubs in the area. Grzesiak, who has also helped Shattuck over the past two years, said the inspiration for the donated baseball gloves came from the film, “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” a documentary that offers insight into Haiti’s cholera epidemic through the eyes of a young baseball player.
Shattuck soon will travel to Haiti, which he does regularly to assess needs in person. He pays for his flights with his money.
Weeks after he returns from the Caribbean, he’ll be off to Africa to meet again with the president of Niger and to make initial contact with dignitaries in Ghana and Swaziland. All three of the desperately poor African nations have reached out to Shattuck for help in acquiring medical equipment and other supplies.
Shattuck first began collecting for Niger last winter. He has enough materials — hospital beds, operating room lights, mattresses — to fill two cargo containers.
Included in that shipment is a huge donation of school supplies collected by students, staff and teachers at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort.
Children of Abraham, a nonprofit group that ships medical supplies to impoverished nations around the world, donates some of its warehouse space in Munster, Ind., to Shattuck’s cause. It’s in the process of converting a container denied at the port in Jordan so its cargo can help refugees at a hospital in Turkey.
Last week, while Shattuck’s volunteers, which included his two sons, Joe and Trey, loaded box after box onto the container bound for Haiti, Shattuck talked excitedly about how deep the Southland’s compassion runs.
“Look,” he said, giving me a tour. “We’ve got baseballs, we’ve got hand-knitted blankets, we’ve got artists’ sketchbooks.”
Every time the SouthtownStar runs a story about the humanitarian work, he said, more people come out to help.
“Every volunteer matters and every donation counts,” he said. “Even the used pencils will be put to good use.”
For more information on donating to Haiti or Niger, contact John Shattuck at (815) 793-5935.