Tom Schaafsma didn't spend Thanksgiving with his family this year.
Instead, he gave hundreds of far-off people something to be thankful for.
Schaafsma, a Sequim resident and Sequim Sunrise Rotary member of more than 20 years, spent the holiday distributing 150 boxes with tents, portable stoves, cookware, mats, blankets, tool kits, water containers and purifiers to flood victims in Honduras through ShelterBox. On Thanksgiving Day, he stumbled across a small farm with turkeys, causing him to think about his family and friends in the U.S. and to be thankful for the blessings in his life.
ShelterBox, headquartered in England, is an international emergency aid organization that literally delivers shelter - and other disaster relief items - in a box. It's not a Rotary program per se, but it's supported by Rotary clubs all over the world.
When landslides and flooding from heavy rains affected an estimated 320,000 people and destroyed almost half of Honduras' crops, putting the country in a national state of emergency, ShelterBox organized a crew to visit the flooded nation.
Schaafsma arrived in Honduras Nov. 20 - when he met his mission partner, a translator and a driver - and departed the country Dec. 2.
"It wasn't a catastrophic event. It was more something that had been building up," Schaafsma said. "When the waters receded, people were out of danger but had to start rebuilding their lives."
Rivers overflowed devastating homes and property. In one town, a landslide blocked a river and caused a flash flood that destroyed the community.
A sugarcane plantation in another town that housed 23 families flooded from the heavy rains.
"When we arrived to the plantation, there were homes scattered all over the place, families broken up and men trying to find their way to work," Schaafsma said.
"That was really satisfying, helping them set up their tents and bring the community back together. It's a gratifying thing to be able to do - to provide aid to people who've lost just about everything."
Honduras was Schaafsma's second ShelterBox mission. In November 2007, he traveled to Peru after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake Aug. 15.
When he arrived in Honduras, it was still raining, Schaafsma said, but when he left the flooding had subsided.
Aid workers from various organizations continue to help the people of Honduras pick up the pieces of their towns, homes and lives.
Ashley Miller may be reached at email@example.com.
When disaster strikes
ShelterBox is a registered United Kingdom nonprofit organization that works closely with Rotarians to provide emergency aid for victims of disasters all over the world.
Since forming in January 2001, ShelterBox has helped more than 500,000 people in more than 30 countries, responding to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, wars and volcanoes.
For more information about the U.S. ShelterBox division or to become a volunteer, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to www.shelterboxusa.org.
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