This Martin Luther King jr. weekend, a Pittsfield family will celebrate 20 years of working for the people of Central America, by preparing another 40ft container with used dental/optical equipment, carpentry tools and equipment, pianos and much more. In 1996 the O’Toole family loaded up a used school bus with all Ed O’Toole’s mechanic tools, and drove the 6000 miles to Guaimaca, Honduras. The initial idea was to live and work for five years with a community that O’Toole got to know as a Peace Corps volunteer in the late seventies. Two years after they were in Guaimaca, hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras. Soon afterwards they received a $15,000 donation from Dick and Megs Dunn, now deceased, former members of the Unitarian Universalist of Pittsfield.
That donation turned the O’Toole’s five plan into living in Honduras for 13 years. First, they returned and disassembled a nursing home in Springfield, bought another bus and filled it with the parts of that nursing home. That bus was shipped from Delaware to Honduras and driven to Guaimaca. When the bus was unloaded and put back together, it was sold for the purchase price, plus the shipping cost and the airfare, leaving the O’Toole’s with the $15,000 and the used materials to build a building.
They then worked with the community to build two buildings. A smaller house-sized building, which currently has a library, and a larger building to be used as a vocational school. During the 13 years the O’Toole’s worked with the community, teaching mechanics, purchasing an ambulance here in Pittsfield to start an ambulance service and having classes in subjects areas such as, French, hair styling, Italian, English, ceramics, first aid, and many more.
In 2009 the O’Toole family returned to the Berkshires so their daughter, Sonrisa, could finish high school here and go on to college. When the Berkshire Hills School District built new schools, the O’Toole’s were offered the desks, filing cabinets and other school equipment. At this point they contracted with the shipping companies that deliver bananas from Honduras. These are refrigerated containers that look like tractor trailers must return to Honduras every week to be filled again.
The truck driver, after unloading bananas in Albany, Pittsfield or some other city, stops at a warehouse where a group of volunteers load the 40ft container with donated items. The last container included three hundred theater chairs donated by Berkshire School, along with medical equipment and school equipment. Hundreds of small bags with clothes and shoes were stuffed into the nooks and crannies. Today, preparations are in their final stages for another shipment to Central America.
On January 22nd after delivering bananas to our area, the truck driver will stop at a warehouse in West Stockbridge to fill the container with all the donations. What is needed now are small items to fill those nooks and crannies like:
- soccer shoes and equipment,
- good, clean clothing and shoes,
- school supplies,
- wheelchairs and crutches,
- and carpentry tools.