A military cargo plane is scheduled to take off from the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base today, y carrying medical supplies and clothing to needy people in the Dominican Republic.
"The conditions in the barrios out in the countryside are terrible," said James. L. Neill, a retired Clarence investment counselor who has visited the country. "There is an acute need for basic medical and dental supplies."
After seeing the situation firsthand, Neill, who conducted a medical supply airlift to the Philippines last year, organized a similar operation for the Dominican Republic.
Neill contacted Dr. William Maher, who with his wife, Dawn, has conducted several medical missions to the Dominican Republic in the past 10 years under the auspices of Jesse's Children, a health ministry of the Episcopal Church of Western New York and Southwest Florida.
Buffalo Mercy Hospital was the first to respond, donating hospital beds and medical supplies. Buffalo Hospital Supply contributed 24 large pallets of disposable hospital items. HSBC Bank came forward with more than 20 pallets of clothing, blankets and water bottles, and Buffalo's Hispanic community collected 333 boxes of clothing for the cause.
As supplies grew, storage space was provide by Asbury Shalom Zone, an outreach program on Buffalo's lower West Side.
Greg Fierle, chief operating officer of Cook Moving Systems of Cheektowaga, arranged for the four tractor-trailer truckloads of supplies to be transported to the air base.
"This was a monumental task in itself," said Neil E. Nolf, the base's public affairs officer. Neill orchestrated the many telephone calls, forms and faxes required under the Denton Program that allows the Air Force to fly charitable donations to Third World countries.
After landing in Santo Domingo, the supplies will be trucked to the barrios and distributed among the residents.
Three Catholic nuns of the Sisters of Charity -- Peggy McDonald, Catherine McGowan and Roberta Mullin -- who have been in the Dominican Republic for more than 30 years, will see that the cargo is distributed to the poorest of the poor, Nolf said.
"The people eke out an existence in very primitive conditions," said Dr. Richard Westermeier, a retired East Aurora dentist who was there last year. Westermeier stayed in an abandoned motel in Bani, a small town 60 miles west of the Dominican Republican capital of Santo Domingo, and provided dental treatment to the people.
"This mission will help turn a critical situation into something livable," he said.
The other two airlifts from the base here are scheduled for March.