Before last week, Eric Lotz already had 22 Haitian mouths to feed - 29, if you count his family, too. Then the earthquake hit. Since then, his orphanage has become overstuffed with Haitians seeking food, shelter and survival.
Before last week, Eric Lotz already had 22 Haitian mouths to feed - 29, if you count his family, too.
Then the earthquake hit. Since then, his orphanage has become overstuffed with Haitians seeking food, shelter and survival.
The Germantown Hills native has been scurrying about, looking after the orphans as he otherwise helps Haitians find medical care and everyday supplies. He no longer has the help of his wife, Jennifer, who this week returned - temporarily - to America to bring their five children to safety. And when the family does eventually reunite, he is not sure where they'll live, as the earthquake ruined their home.
What does he call that?
"Lucky," he said, with an upbeat tone - as in lucky enough to survive the temblor, plus continue to do the work he loves.
Meanwhile, his parents, Chris and John Lutz of Germantown Hills, can't help but fret over his safety.
"It's been petrifying," Chris Lotz said.
Eric Lotz, 32, juggles multiple jobs in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. The Metamora Township High School grad first went to Haiti as part of a spiritual mission while he attended Eastern Illinois University. He later would graduate with a degree in Biblical literature from Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo.
In 1998, he ventured to Haiti to teach fourth-grade children. Between classes at the school, he met an eighth-grade teacher named Jennifer, an education major from Southern Missouri State University in Springfield, Mo.
"We had the same break periods," Lotz said with a chuckle via cell phone. "And the rest is history."
They married 10 years ago. They decided to put down roots in Haiti.
"We just fell in love with the country and kept hearing God calling us back there," Lotz said.
He became executive director of the New Hope Haiti Mission Orphanage in Port-au-Prince Haiti. The orphanage cares for 22 children, ages 5 through 14. Though the Lotz family lives off-site, during the day their kids - ages 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 - partake in schooling at the orphanage.
On the afternoon of Jan. 12, Jennifer Lotz, her kids and the orphans were having Bible study outside the building, singing the hymn, "Jesus Loves the Little Children."
Then the quake hit. Jennifer Lotz, 34, ordered the group to hit the ground. They kept singing as the ground rumbled. All escaped harm.
Meanwhile, Eric Lotz was at the main hospital in Port-au-Prince, discussing a project to improve its water supply. That's his area of expertise as an employee of Operation Blessing International, a humanitarian organization based in Virginia that specializes in community development and disaster relief.
"This time, the disaster came to us," Lotz said.
Four minutes before the quake, he had been atop a 20-foot water tower. As the tremors struck, he was standing in a courtyard. He watched, shaking, as buildings around him crumbled.
He rushed back to the orphanage. Unlike many buildings in the capital, the orphanage had stood its ground.
Lotz went to check his house. No luck there: Though still upright, it looked ready to collapse.
"I think the house probably has to be demolished," he said.
So, he and his family relocated to the orphanage. They were joined by all 10 Haitian staff members and their families; every one of their homes had been leveled.
Since then, others seeking help - food, water, a safe patch of ground to sleep - have squeezed onto the orphanage property.
"We're going to open it up to as many people as possible," Lotz said.
Meantime, he and his wife decided to get their children to America. Not only would the kids be safer there, but their absence would allow for housing for relief workers who can help injured and displaced Haitians.
So, this week she and the kids got a flight out of Haiti to return to her native home of Fenton, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. They'll stay there with her parents.
Joining the reunion will be Eric Lotz's parents, who on Wednesday hit the road to drive southwest.
"I feel bad that our son had to stay behind," Chris Lotz said. "But that's his job, helping people. That's his passion."
On Wednesday, Eric Lotz continued his work with Operation Blessing. As he drove around the hectic capital, an early-morning quake aftershock that struck the country did not phase him.
"I think everything's OK, just a little shaken up," he said.
Lotz has been helping coordinate medical relief in Port-au-Prince. His current task: arranging plans for an Israeli medical team to join other doctors at a makeshift hospital set up inside a massive soccer stadium.
His wife will return in two weeks. She will help coordinate relief teams.
Such work will go on for a long time. But for Lotz, the main tasks focus on day-to-day.
"We're just in survival mode," he says, his voice nonetheless still upbeat.
Peoria Journal Star columnist Phil Luciano can be reached at (309) 686-3155 or email@example.com. This column is the opinion of the writer and not of the newspaper.