Tuesday, October 19, 2010


(Star Tribune) - By Jean Hopfensperger

What's the link between the disease elephantiasis, salt and Minnesota philanthropy?

It's a somewhat convoluted tale. But it eventually points to the reach of Minnesota's charitable giving and its unexpected twists.

It starts in Haiti, where at least one in 10 people suffers from elephantiasis. The disease causes grotesque swelling of the body. Think actor John Hurt in the 1980 Hollywood hit "The Elephant Man."

More than 5 million Haitians had access to medicine last year to halt the spread of elephantiasis.

However, the disease is so widespread that public health leaders began adding the medicine to table salt to expand their reach. Eating rice and beans never was so healthy!

But the Jan. 12 earthquake has disrupted Haiti's salt production. So the University of Notre Dame Haiti Program, a leader in combatting the disease, put out a call for salt donations.

Enter Cargill Inc., which has donated 100 metric tons of salt to the cause. That's about 1 million 3-ounce salt shakers, Cargill staff said. The salt will come from a nearby Cargill Salt facility in the Caribbean and will be repackaged and fortified with the medicine in Port-au-Prince warehouses.

Ruth Kimmelshue, president of Cargill Salt, acknowledged it was an unusual philanthropic request. In fact, requests for donated salt are rare, she said.

"We haven't had anything like this in the past,'' said Kimmelshue. "But it seemed like a really interesting opportunity. It was a nice coincidence of need and our ability to support a need.''

Sarah Craig, program manager for the Notre Dame Haiti project, said the salt will help up to 200,000 residents of the city of Leogane.

"We've done a couple pilot projects [with salt], and it worked well,'' said Craig. "Now we're trying to scale it up to bigger communities. That's why we needed Cargill.''

The salt is valued at about $20,000, a tiny fraction of Cargill giving. The company announced last week it had donated $57 million in the past year.

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