PORT-AU-PRINCE -- The six-foot stainless steel tables were supposed to fit together like Lego pieces, creating a work station to roll out the 300 loaves of bread to be made every morning for the children whose families had perished in the earthquake or who had been abandoned at birth.
But a column stood in the way.
For Gene Singletary, who has spent years toiling in kitchens as a top Miami caterer, and Albert Ramirez, the guy chefs call when their ovens aren’t topping 800 degrees for their wood-burning pizzas, a little thing like a load-bearing column wasn’t going to stop them.
“I need a grinder,’’ Singletary barked.
It took only a moment or two for one of the Haitian men to run off and return with a circular saw and one of those school-bus-yellow-sheathed extension cords, the kind for stringing Christmas lights.
Singletary and Ramirez quickly went to work. They measured the column, marked a square on the table, moved the table outside, plugged in the saw, and cut through the steel, sparks flying like a knife slicing day-old bread. Ramirez, his right arm wrapped in a sling from recent rotator cuff surgery, used his left to bend the steel upwards, flush against the column as if it had been custom made.
And this is how four Miamians — Singletary and Ramirez along with sisters Laurie Weiss Nuell and Jennie Weiss Block — are helping to transform the lives of 61 Haitian children by building a bakery.
These are children who were orphaned or discarded by parents who couldn’t handle their children’s disabilities.
The children have found a haven in Zanmi Beni Children’s Home (“Blessed Friends’’ in Creole), with its leafy setting, Crayola-colored playground and hand-chiseled stone chapel flanked by mango and sugar apple trees.
“It really is a special place,’’ said Nuell. “I want for these children what I want for my own children.’’
The complex, with its red gates and yellow walls, is the work of two groups — Dr. Paul Farmer’s Boston-based Partners in Health and Operation Blessing International, a Virginia Beach-based charity that builds wells and water purification systems. (They also build fish farms and raise tropical fish — more on that later.)
“It’s the kind of place where you would want to live, and where you would want your children to live,’’ said Farmer, who for the past 26 years has delivered healthcare to millions of people in places like Haiti, Rwanda, Malawi and Peru.
Farmer will speak with Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat about his latest book, To Repair The World, at 4 p.m. Sunday at a Books & Books event at Coral Gables Congregational Church.
It was Farmer, who grew up in Brooksville on Florida’s West Coast, who led the Weiss sisters to Haiti. They are the daughters of the late Jay Weiss, who co-founded Southern Wine & Spirits, the nation’s largest liquor distributor and the folks who produce the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, with its star chefs and bacchanalian wine tastings on the beach.
Weiss, one of the champions of Jackson Memorial, Ryder Trauma Center and the University of Miami’s Sylvester Cancer Center, died in 2004. One of his lifelong dreams was to set up a program where doctors could make a career out of serving people in impoverished areas.