I live in Vancouver, and sometimes take the bus to work through an area known as the Downtown Eastside — what’s called “the poorest postal code in North America.” Not a lot of people with a lot of money ride that bus.

 

So imagine my surprise this week, hearing passengers talk about how they want to send money to Haiti, devastated by an earthquake Jan. 12. “I owe Visa a whack of money,” said a middle-aged woman, dressed in a slightly dirty coat, missing a button. “But I’m gonna put a donation to Haiti on my credit card. They could use the money.”

 

An older man across the aisle joined in, saying he had a collection agency tracking him down, but he was putting a cheque for $25 in the mail to help people in Haiti.

 

A third passenger said he planned to collect bottles and donate the money to the Red Cross, earmarked for Haitian aid.


These are people with very little money figuring out how to help others far worse off than themselves. It says a lot about the spirit of our country. Yes, our household debt hit a record high last year — for every $100 of income, Canadians now owe $145 in debt.


And yet, people are opening their wallets to lend a hand to Haiti. The Red Cross says Canadians have donated almost $36 million and made another $8 million in pledges. Other charities are reporting big donations, too. World Vision says aid is coming in faster than during the 2004 tsunami. So far, it has raised more than $5 million. Oxfam, Care Canada and Save the Children are raising millions, too. There’s no overall figure available, but other charities receiving donations include Medecins Sans Frontieres Canada, UNICEF and Plan Canada.


Tonight, Marketplace, the program I regularly co-host on CBC Television, will be pre-empted: CBC Television, CTV and Global Television are collaborating to produce Canada For Haiti, a one-hour, commercial-free special featuring a star-studded lineup of Canadian talent. Also broadcasting tonight is the U.S. telethon Hope For Haiti Now, hosted by George Clooney.


Programming begins tonight at 7 local ET/CT/PT, 8 local AT/MT and 8:30 local NT.


Donations accepted during the broadcast will benefit a coalition of Canadian NGOs, including Canadian Red Cross Society, Care Canada, Free the Children, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Quebec, Plan Canada, Save the Children Canada, UNICEF Canada and World Vision Canada.

I hope you’ll tune in, and donate if you can. Who knows? Maybe next week on the bus you’ll be talking about what you did to help.


Erica Johnson is a journalist and co-host of CBC News: Marketplace, Canada's award-winning consumer affairs show. CBC News: Marketplace airs each Friday night at 8:30 p.m. on CBC Television.