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Why a University of Utah Student Is Turning Hearts to Haiti

Eliza Stewart at age six with Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti, after she gave him her fundraising proceeds in 2010. Photo by Eliza Stewart, courtesy of Church News.2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

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By Mary Richards, Church News

Eliza Jane Stewart began selling cookies door-to-door around Liberty, Utah, when she was six years old. She wanted to use her profits to help Haiti. It was the year 2010, when the huge, tragic earthquake hit the Caribbean nation and killed or injured more than 200,000 people.

Now Stewart is a University of Utah student in the Salt Lake Bonneville YSA Stake, and her charitable efforts for Haiti are not only going strong, they are growing.

A young Eliza Stewart giving her Haiti jar to Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti. Photo by Eliza Stewart, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

A ‘Haiti Jar’

Back in 2010, Stewart was making heart-shaped treats for neighbors to give to loved ones for Valentine’s Day. Then a family friend told her family about Healing Hands for Haiti, a nonprofit charity and rehabilitation clinic that helps Haitians with disabilities. At the time, the group was in crisis mode after the earthquake destroyed their only clinic in Haiti.

Utahn Dr. Jeff Randle founded the charity and clinic more than a decade before the earthquake. But the concrete buildings were either destroyed or severely damaged, and he could not salvage the medicine, wheelchairs, crutches or cots stored in its warehouse in the days after the quake.

“I thought I was going to cry when I saw this,” Randle told the Deseret News after he walked around the complex’s six-acre grounds in Port-Au-Prince. “But my heart is crying.”

Later that year, Stewart and her family went to a fireside where Randle spoke. Stewart, then six years old, went up afterward and gave Randle her “Haiti jar,” which had the coins and money she had earned from her Valentine’s business. Her family said it was a moment that brought tears to many eyes and planted a seed of service. “Eliza’s Hearts for Haiti” was born.

Cookies and More for Haiti

A Valentine’s bag with the “Hearts for Haiti” label, made by Eliza Stewart. Photo by Eliza Stewart, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Every year, Stewart advertised the Valentine cookies to friends and family, and every year she would meet with Randle to hand over the Haiti jar with all her proceeds. Stewart’s cookie orders got so large that she worked with a grocery store to provide the cookies and gather donations.

Meanwhile, Healing Hands for Haiti rebuilt and grew in the years after the earthquake. Today, with the support of donors, partners, volunteers and Haitian-led professional staff, it operates two outpatient facilities in Port-au-Prince. One offers physical therapy, clinical services and training, and the other partners with Handicap International to make and fit prosthetics and orthotics.

As Stewart got older, she and her friends did other projects for Healing Hands for Haiti, like making quilts for children in orphanages. When she reached junior high, Stewart got the other students involved in selling Valentine bags to win prizes for top sales. That year, she turned in a Haiti jar to Randle with four times the amount of money she had raised previously to help the clinics in Haiti.

The Growing Need in Haiti

Eliza Stewart at age 10 with Dr. Jeff Randle, founder of Healing Hands for Haiti. Photo by Eliza Stewart, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Stewart said that in Haiti, when someone loses a limb, they are cast out of society and are unable to work in normal employment. The Healing Hands for Haiti clinics provide prosthetics and partner with the Church’s wheelchair program. They also help Haitians with rehabilitation, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Now the country of Haiti is in more need than ever. The earthquake in August 2021 left more than 100 people in need of prosthetic limbs. Hundreds more people need the clinics’ services because of governmental problems. COVID-19 and the political crisis mean many people are afraid to leave their homes, and they lack food, water and gasoline.

“Eliza’s Hearts 4 Haiti started from an ambitious six-year-old mind that did not fully understand every aspect of what I was creating,” Stewart told the Church News. “However, my love for the people of Haiti has grown in major ways throughout the years and they have become a focus in my life.”

More Outreach for Haiti

Eliza Stewart is a University of Utah freshman who has been fundraising for Haiti relief since she was six years old. Here she is pictured in December 2021. Photo by Eliza Stewart, courtesy of Church News.All rights reserved.

Stewart is now a freshman at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is working to take her fundraising to the next level. She organized a committee with student leaders at the Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah to help with fundraising, social media support and advertising.

On February 2, 2022 Stewart held a launch event on the University of Utah campus sponsored by the Student Alumni Board. Randle spoke to the college students about the needs in Haiti, and many worked on assembling treat bags to sell for the cause. Since then, Stewart has been gathering donations online for outreach centered around Valentine’s Day.

With all these new efforts and all the new help, Stewart hopes to give Randle a Haiti jar this year that will really make a difference for the clinic’s patients. She also hopes to be able to visit Haiti in the next few years to help at the clinic in person.

“In the unique position that I am in, I have the privilege of gathering those from all walks of life in order to unite in a single purpose to serve others. This allows me the opportunity to witness a lot of love, genuine goodness, and extreme kindness,” she said.

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