MIAMI — San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois and Miami Edison senior Jensky Mezadieu had more than the love of football in common when they met this week.
They both lost loved ones during the devastating earthquake that hit near Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Jan. 12.
“My father lost five of his close cousins,” Jean-Francois said.
An aspiring running back, Haiti-born Jensky said he lost four family members, and one is injured.
The two, who live on opposite ends of the country, faced each other at Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center in Little Haiti. The center provides a host of services to assist Haitian immigrants, including job training, access to health services, citizenship classes and other programs.
Several NFL players went to Sant La Feb. 3 to tour the facility and meet young athletes who attend neighboring Miami Edison Senior High. Many players are in town for Super Bowl XLIV, slated for Sunday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Their visit coincided with General Motors Foundation’s announcement at Sant La that it will be sending 30 GMC Sierra trucks to Haiti. The foundation brought two of the trucks– both six-passengers, one with a six-foot bed and the other 8-foot—with some supplies of rice and water visible.
GM executives challenged South Florida residents to visit local dealerships to donate items to fill the trucks before they are shipped to Haiti by the William J. Clinton Foundation.
“The Clinton Foundation told us about the need and we responded,” said Greg Ross, sales & marketing manager for Buick/GMC-GM. “I am really proud of my company and the dealers.”
GM Foundation’s total giving to Haiti is $100,000, and money is still being raised through auctions and auto shows, according to company statements.
Sitting on the edge of the bed of one of the trucks to be donated at Sant La, the 49er rookie who used to live in Miami recounted a phone call he had his with brother, Velhome, who was in Haiti during the earthquake.
“He said a chandelier almost fell on his head, and when he looked out the window he just saw building by building falling. He said he was hoping he was dreaming but it was a nightmare.”
His presence at Sant La underscored his employer’s commitment to Haiti’s plight.
He said after the earthquake, he and other players asked the NFL to help Haiti. They responded.
“They [NFL] said they would do everything to help,” Jean-Francois said.
Sant La Executive Director Gepsie M. Metellus said the NFL as an organization has contributed $1 million through the Red Cross and that players individually have donated and continue to donate.
“The have really galvanized support and solidarity for Haiti. At the game it will be mentioned that Haiti will continue to need support and we are thankful for that,” she said.
The NFL last month pledged $2.5 million in relief aid to Haiti, including $1million in cash and $1.5 million in public announcements, according to company statements.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess said even though he didn’t lose anyone during the earthquake, he felt a connection with the victims after seeing the gruesome images.
“I felt like I lost someone. We have to continue to pray,” he said.
The players shared the same sentiment with Metellus: Do not forget Haiti. Continue to donate.
Metellus seemed gracious and thankful for all the attention that South Florida and the world turned to the Caribbean nation that had already been plagued by storms in recent years. But as she scanned the room of athletes and media representatives, she called the attention bittersweet. She said the trucks that were donated would be used to move supplies around as well as transportation in Haiti.
“The earthquake left the nation on its knees but at the end of the day Haitians are resilient, fighting people,” she said.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois sits on a GM Truck in Miami with bottled water collected to go to Haiti.