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Life for Haiti uses school bus as shipping container
Tim Shoda works inside a converted school bus loading bunk bed sets inside the Life for Haiti Foundation USA on Skelton Road last week as the missionary group prepares to ship the bus and beds to the impoverished country.

Life to Haiti Foundation USA

Where: 1515 Skelton Road, Gainesville

Contact: 770-718-9263 or


Obviously, buses are great at transporting a lot of people at once, but they’re pretty handy when it comes to transporting a lot of stuff, too.

Local missionaries are busy packing a donated school bus with as much equipment and supplies as possible before shipping the bus to Haiti.

The team of local missionaries, including Tim and Karen Shoda of Gainesville, will be visiting the small nation on the third anniversary of a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake.

Life for Haiti Foundation USA, an independent nondenominational entity, works with several mission groups and churches, including Cornerstone Assembly of God and Jesus Way Ministries in North Carolina, to help the people of Haiti.

The Shodas have been going on regular missions to Haiti since the 1990s.

Karen, a retired dental assistant, uses her expertise to offer dental services to the people in Haiti. Tim focuses on helping with the other humanitarian needs of the nation’s people.

After the earthquake, the first step for the missionaries was to meet the medical needs of the Haitian people. Once the immediate medical needs were met, they got to work helping to rebuild the damaged and destroyed buildings.

Tim has worked in orphanages in Haiti for several years. Since the earthquake destroyed the orphanage he was working at, he and others have been busy shipping in supplies to help rebuild.

"We lost all of our belongings in an orphanage," said Tim. "We lost everything but the children pretty much. They got out with their clothes on their backs. We’ve been trying to rebuild, and we have the building in place now and we’re trying to get the furnishings all completed."

The best way to bring in all these needed items, Shoda said, is with a school bus.

The retired school bus was donated by a school system in West Virginia.

Using the bus as a shipping container has other advantages, too. Shipments into some of the bigger ports in Haiti are sometimes vandalized by gangs and criminals. By shipping a vehicle, the missionaries are redirected to a smaller port with less criminal activity.

It also saves money not just in shipping costs, but by providing transportation, a valuable resource in Haiti.

"Instead of using shipping containers, we use retired school buses," said Tim. "Then we meet the transportation needs we have in Haiti once we get there."

Missionaries and volunteers have made as much storage space as possible inside the 30-foot bus by removing the seats and stacking them neatly at one end.

Tim said there is "quite an array of items" filling the 225-square-feet of available space inside the bus.

Building supplies, wood working equipment, air conditioners, bathroom sinks, bunk beds, 1,000 pairs of shoes, clothes, toys, Bibles and many more useful items have been stacked and stuffed into every square inch of the bus.

"Right now we’re at about 6,000 pounds from a weight standpoint," Tim said.

All of the items being shipped to Haiti have been donated to the cause from churches and individuals.

Wanda Walker, Women’s minister of Cornerstone Assembly of God, said the ministries at her church have been diligently helping to gather the needed supplies to fill the bus.

She said it’s amazing how so many people from several other churches or organizations come together to help others.

Because so many people come to volunteer, the group always seems to have someone available to lend a hand with any problem encountered.

"It’s just neat how God puts everyone together," Walker said. "We might have a car mechanic help us fix the bus or an engineer who designed the bunk beds. Different people have different talents and gifts, and we just get everything we need. God just provides somebody to help."

Karen Shoda said they’ve been able to meet the right people in Haiti, too.

They found out about the safer shipping method through a Haitian pastor with whom they work. He told the missionaries how to be more "under the radar."

A young man in the police force was once an orphan at the orphanage where the Shodas worked; he now uses his job to look out for the missionaries as they come into the country.

Karen said after so many years of serving in Haiti they’ve become "street wise" and have learned how to avoid trouble.

"We know the ins and outs and how they operate," she said. "We have a lot of good connections on the ground. Most ministries can get discouraged trying to ship things into the country. It can be a very discouraging thing to work in Haiti if you don’t understand the lay of the land."

Discouraging though it may be at times, the missionaries keep going back. The Shodas intend to live in the country permanently as soon as they see an opportunity.

Walker, who also has served as a missionary in Haiti, said the country and its people has a way of "getting hold of your heart."

"If you see the pictures of the orphanages, it grabs your heart and you really want to do something," Walker said. "Not everyone can go to Haiti but everyone can do something. If it’s just coming over here, to fold clothes or help with a yard sale or anything. It all helps."

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