By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner issued a call to action yesterday, asking Toledoans to join him in helping relief efforts in hurricane-stricken Central America.
“If we are truly an All-America City, we will reach out to people both in this country and outside it who are in need,” he said.
The mayor said he hopes to get more than 100 Toledo area residents together for a 7-to-14-day journey to Honduras, or one of the other countries battered by Hurricanes Mitch and Georges.
Most needed are people who speak Spanish, and those with skills in engineering, child care, and health fields, he said.
The effort is tied to Toledo’s All-America City status. Mr. Finkbeiner said it is important for the nation’s 10 All-America Cities to join together to help.
When the mayor traveled to Washington this week to accept the All-America City award, he approached the mayors of the other cities and asked them to join Toledo’s efforts. They agreed.
Tipper Gore, the wife of Vice President Gore who is working on Central American relief efforts, named Toledo as the lead city in the project.
Other cities have been gathering food and toys for Hondurans and other nations badly damaged by the storms, but the mayor said skilled volunteers are the most needed quantity. “We need people who can go down there and do the work to rebuild,” he said. “They need us to provide the bodies.”
In recent years, aid officials have been struggling with a phenomenon they call “disaster tourism,” in which well-to-do Americans zip in and out of a disaster site, staying just a day or two to look around.
But Barry Broome, the city’s point man on the project, wants citizens to know that this trip won’t be a walk in the park.
“This’ll be working a lot of hours with a pick and a shovel for a lot of them,” he said.
The project is being coordinated through the U.S. Agency for International Development, which will spend the next few weeks deciding when and where the Toledoans will be used.
Mr. Finkbeiner said he wants to gather 100 to 200 people, “enough to fill a plane,” to send down. Once there, Toledoans will probably sleep in pup tents and live in less-than-optimal conditions. “But they’ll know they’re doing a lot of good,” Mr. Broome said.
Mr. Broome said not every volunteer must know Spanish, but said a majority will have to. Many of the other All-America Cities have large Hispanic populations who will be able to readily provide Spanish speakers, he said.
City officials hope this effort will create a tradition of each year’s All-America Cities sending relief teams to disaster areas.
The city is asking area corporations, foundations, and labor unions to contribute to the cause by paying the cost of transporting the volunteers to Central America. The mayor said DaimlerChrysler AG has contributed $10,000.
Anyone interested in being a volunteer should call the mayor’s office for information. They will be asked to provide a letter of interest and a resume.