(This story was originally published September 14, 2008.)
Thomas Sagaser, four feet eight inches of earnest altruism, stands outside his school with a glass jar and a sign that says, "Please help."
The fifth-grader spends his free time telling his friends and his Boy Scout troop about the devastation wrought by back-to-back storms in the Caribbean.
"They were, like, really freaked out, " said Thomas, 10, a student at Mary Help of Christians Catholic School in Parkland. "Now, all they want to do is help."
Thomas moved quickly in his efforts to gather money and bags of clothes and food for the Catholic church's efforts to help the afflicted, but the aid he collects may not. The path from his jar and his collected goods to the hands of hurricane victims in the Caribbean is often fraught with obstacles on both ends of the journey.
The two disaster-ravaged countries present very different challenges.
The long, confrontational history between Cuba and the United States creates a uniquely delicate political dynamic, although the distribution of aid is generally well run once it arrives on the island. With Haiti, the biggest problems are shipping delays and roads and bridges now swept away by flooding.
With Haiti, it often takes five weeks or more for an aid shipment to reach those who need it. With Cuba, once the bureaucratic hurdles are cleared, it can take as little as five days.
The crisis in the Caribbean has hit a nerve in South Florida, where many have ties to the countries that are just now beginning what promises to be a years-long process of recovery. The outpouring has drawn a cross-section of South Florida society, with everyone from the Miami-Dade state attorney's office to a South Florida Muslim group pitching in.
Many were moved by the images of dead children and crushed homes.
Linda Mae Stubbs, a first-time donor from the Bahamas, was so shocked by what she saw that she hurried to Notre Dame D'Haiti church in Little Haiti to drop off bags of water, shoes, and clothes once worn by her and her husband.
"I feel sorry for the people over there, " said Stubbs, 60, of North Miami.
But donors like Stubbs rarely understand the complicated and time-consuming process of providing relief.
"Everybody's gathering stuff and putting it in boxes and assuming everything will go well, " said Carolyn Rose-Avila, a former relief worker for World Vision, which has offices in Washington, D.C. "You have to have distribution channels that work."
Sending goods to Haiti without the proper paperwork or someone on the other end to pick it up can mean months in storage -- and thousands of dollars in private storage fees.
Groups such as World Vision send supplies before the hurricane season starts in anticipation of disasters that might require an immediate response.
One bottleneck is dealing with Haitian ports. Cross International, a Christian relief agency in Pompano Beach, said a container can sit in a Haitian port for more than three weeks before it clears customs -- an eternity in the disaster situation now facing the impoverished Caribbean nation.
In some cases, the container never leaves the port.
One South Florida activist recalled how he helped fill a container to send to the northwestern city of Gonaives in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Jeanne in 2004 -- yet another tempest that heaped havoc on the seaside city, leaving 3,000 dead.