HAVERHILL — When disasters strike in Latin America, Orlando Vargas can call upon a network of resources to get help for the stricken.
Vargas, 46, founded the Dominican Organization of International Resources in Haverhill in 2003 to send medical equipment and supplies to needy communities in the Dominican Republic.
He also is employed as the project coordinator of Por Cristo, a member of the Caritas Christi Health Care System. The charitable medical service organization has been involved in health care work in Latin America, with its primary focus on Ecuador, since 1979.
"I feel we don't need a disaster to be ready, we have to be prepared at all times," he said.
So when the 7.0-magnitude earthquake shook Haiti last week, he immediately called the International Medical Equipment Collaborative, a nonprofit organization with which he has worked for nine years.
The collaborative, based in North Andover, is helping Vargas fill four, 40-foot ship containers. The first two will carry medical equipment, beds and supplies for hospitals in the Dominican towns of Jimani and Barahona, near the Haitian border. The other two containers will have emergency medical supplies and equipment for hospitals in Belladere and Port-au-Prince in Haiti.
"We feel blessed to be here and work with organizations like his," said Thomas Keefe, a former hospital administrator for 20 years before starting IMEC in 1995.
"He's a very kind, tireless man whose actions are quiet, but he gets the job done," Keefe said of Vargas.
Helping the needy seems to have come naturally for Vargas.
Raised in Bonao in the Dominican Republic, he was 17 when he started a program to help drug addicts. He also was active in his church's youth group.
Vargas came to the United States in 1986, settling in Haverhill.
"When I came here, I wanted to continue the work I was doing," he said.
Vargas knew a family back home that needed five wheelchairs, so he purchased them and sent them.
Soon after, he joined Catholic Youth in Action in Lawrence. In 1989, he was part of the program's first youth mission to the Dominican Republic.
Vargas led one to three missions a year with Catholic Youth in Action between 1989 and 2001. They included parish youth groups to students from Central Catholic High School in Lawrence and Merrimack College in North Andover.
It wasn't until 2004 when he attended a meeting of Dominican medical professionals that he began looking at combining missionary work and medicine.
Through his contacts with the clerics in the Catholic Church in the Dominican Republic and government officials, Vargas soon found a way to help hospitals and clinics get equipment.
"It's a mission motivated by my love and service to others," he said. "I always see the face of Jesus in those I help."
Through the help of IMEC, Vargas has equipped hospitals in the towns of Bani, San Cristobal, Azua, San Juan de la Maguana and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.
Vargas usually sends 40-foot containers, which costs an average of $4,200 to ship. Because the shipment is going to help the earthquake victims, the shipping company is only charging Vargas approximately $2,500. They usually take two weeks to reach the island country.
In addition to the medical supplies and equipment, the organization sent 32 pews to a church in Azua in the southern part of the country, donated by St. James Parish in Haverhill.
Vargas' work has not gone unnoticed. In 2007, Dominican President Hipolito Mejia bestowed the Duarte Award for his work with the poor.
Vargas and his wife, Veronica, have been married for 17 years. She is a family nurse practitioner. They have three children, Andres, 16, a student at Haverhill High; Pablo, 8, and Gabriela, 6, both students at Sacred Hearts School.
The Vargases attend St. James Church. Veronica Vargas hosts health clinics and Andres is a collector at Mass and Gabriela sings in the school choir.
Vargas said he lives by this motto:
"If you dedicate yourself to serve those who are less fortunate, you will feel the importance of your existence and will always have reasons to live."