Broward News

Anderson Cooper Helps Aaron Jackson Help Haiti

When the earthquake first hit, Aaron Jackson immediately announced that his charity, Planting Peace, would help as many Haitians as possible with food, water, medicine, and shelter. Within days, Aaron was on the ground in Port-au-Prince, literally.

While down there, his story made the front page of the New York Times. I spoke with him as soon as he got back to Florida, and he told me about how he helped the people of Haiti and how Anderson Cooper helped him.

Aaron flew down with another Planting Peace board member on a private jet rented by the Voice Homeless Shelter in Hollywood. Aaron wanted to bring money to his orphanages and check on the 37 children, who all survived the initial quake unharmed.

His first night there, he decided it wouldn't be safe to show up at the orphanage. "It would look like a big aid drop," Aaron told me. "That just wouldn't be safe for the kids."

He went to a hotel where he thought he had reservations only to learn that the hotel had lost all outside communications and had canceled all reservations. "That night, we literally slept on the street in Port-au-Prince. Right on the ground."

The next day, at another hotel that didn't have any vacancies, Aaron saw an old friend. "Right as I was leaving, I saw Anderson Cooper. He was like, 'Aaron, what's going on, man?'" Aaron was one of the original CNN Heroes and has met Cooper several times. Aaron explained the reservation situation, and in a matter of minutes, the CNN anchor arranged for Aaron and his friend to have one of the CNN rooms.

That day, Aaron was able to go to a market that had just reopened, purchase large bags of rice and beans and cornmeal, and deliver them to his children. He also delivered a large amount of cash.

"One of the biggest problems is getting money down there," Aaron says. "One of the reasons I needed to go down there was to literally mule cash. The banks are no more. You can't exactly Western Union money down there."

They had enough food and money to feed several other orphanages in the neighborhood too.

"We plan ahead anyway," Aaron explained. "We keep a big stockpile there. It's Haiti. Crazy things can happen at any time. We were ready in that way."

One of the things Aaron is dealing with now that he's back, he says, is the massive number of adoption requests he's getting. Especially after the Times story, he says, he gets ten to 15 emails a day from people looking to adopt orphaned children from the troubled island nation.

Meanwhile, Planting Peace continues raising funds for the work ahead. Actor Rainn Wilson, another friend of Aaron's, has promised an autographed photo to anyone who donates at least $100. Wilson is also auctioning a custom backpack signed by the cast of The Office. Wilson's comments on the item up for bid:

"This is a 22-inch American Tourister rolling red suitcase. It is embroidered with the infamous misspelling "DUNDER MUFFIN." Rainn says, "Less than 200 of these were given out by me, John Krasinski, and Jenna Fischer at the end of Season 3 as a thank you to the crew. There's only a handful of these puppies still around. Great for transporting drugs. Will be signed by the whole cast."

And Mike Mitchell, the artist behind the "I'm With CoCo" phenomenon, has organized a night of comedy in New York, with benefits going to Planting Peace.

We'll continue checking in with Aaron, even after much of the other media has gone back to forgetting about Haiti.

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Michael J. Mooney