"Flip Flops For Haiti" Project Exceeding Expectations


(From the June 2010 WORD magazine

By Camille Patrick

“Flip-Flops for Haiti”? That’s a popular phrase at St. Matthew’s of North Royalton and all around Cleveland, since one of our parishioners, Josephine Katzbach, ventured on a four-day trip to Haiti in early March with a friend of hers, to help build a clinic for the mountain people.

The ladies made the trip to work with a nun and a priest affiliated with a church in Chicago called Fraternité Notre Dame. Josie returned from Haiti with an ambitious goal of raising 2,000 flip-flops for the 1,500 or so impoverished inhabitants who live around a primitive camp at the top of a mountain near Port-au-Prince. She and her friend plan to return sometime in July to distribute the flip-flops to the people there.

An experience in Haiti was the source for Josie’s ambition. The ladies had to escort an ill woman from a clinic in town back up the mountain. Struck by her lack of material possessions, Josie literally gave the woman the clothes off her back, with the exception of her flip-flops, the only shoes that would fit Josie's swollen feet. So when she and her friend returned to Chicago, inspiration struck and Josie said, “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s do ‘flip-flops for Haiti.’”

Thus was born a new philanthropic idea for Josie.

Josie is no stranger to helping others. She takes food and water to the homeless in Cleveland twice a month with parishioners from St. Matthew’s or St. George of Cleveland. She also helps people professionally through her job providing special home healthcare. A “life-changing experience”– that’s how Josie describes her trip to Haiti. Although the city’s poverty and devastation are great, poverty is even more extreme in the mountains. “They are the poorest of the poor,” says Katzbach. The earthquake did not have as much of an effect on them; instead, poverty is a way of life for them.

“They have shoes, if you want to call them that. They are hand-me-downs. None of them are new. I saw a guy wearing women’s shoes. A lot of the little kids are barefoot,” notes Katzbach. Americans have no idea how such a little thing  like a pair of flip-flops can bring joy to these people who have nothing.

Thoughtful and very appreciative are two expressions Josie uses again and again to describe the people she met in Haiti. One little girl, Maria, moved her greatly. Josie gave Maria a piece of gum, and instead of consuming it herself, she shared that one stick of gum with her sisters.

Josie is hoping to collect a variety of sizes of flip-flops for men, women and children – the more the better. She can be reached at: josieakay@yahoo.com.

Update from Josephine:

"To date I have collected 1700 flip flops in Ohio, 1000 in NJ and 2000 in FL. My deadline for collections is June 30th. I am happy to say that I have surpassed my goal of 2000. I plan on returning in August to pass them out to the village people on the mountain top. Then I will pass out the remainder to the school children in Port au Prince. My greatest challenge today is raising funds for the shipping. To help with that we are having a dinner on October 24th at Saint Matthew's church."

Donations should be made payable to:

Saint Matthew The Evangelist Antiochian Orthodox Church

10383 Albion Rd.

North Royalton Ohio   44133

Please mark "flip flops" in the memo