The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) launched a campaign to collect donations following Tuesday's massive earthquake in Haiti, which registered a 7.0 on the Richter scale.

Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday after the powerful earthquake flattened the president's palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods. Officials feared thousands - perhaps more than 100,000 - may have perished, but there was no firm count.

With a per capita income of $3.60 per day, Haiti is the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere. Thus, its population is especially vulnerable to natural disasters, such as this massive earthquake. Based on initial reports of widespread devastation and a high number of casualties, AJWS anticipates that the immediate and long-term needs will be profound and is coordinating with its in-country representatives to respond immediately.

"We are assessing where the gaps in service are and putting a process in place to help specific communities that might not be immediately served otherwise," said AJWS's vice president for programs, Aaron Dorfman. "Because of the economic and political situation in Haiti, disasters like this have devastating consequences throughout the country. Our long-standing partnerships with grassroots organizations in Haiti allow us to reach the poorest and most remote populations with the speed necessary to save lives."

Founded in 1985, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) earned its eighth four-star rating from Charity Navigator in 2009 as well as an "A" rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.

Jewish community of Canada mobilizes Haiti earthquake relief effort

Meanwhile Wednesday, Canadian Jewish Congress's National President Mark J. Freiman and CEO Bernie M. Farber communicated the following message in a letter to the Haitian chargé d'affaires in Ottawa:

"On behalf of the Jewish community of Canada, we express our deep sorrow on the tremendous loss of life and damage from the earthquake in Haiti. We grieve with you and our fellow Canadians of Haitian origin at this sad time and we extend our condolences to the families of the victims. We pray for a complete recovery of those hurt or ill as a result of this terrible natural disaster and for the expeditious rebuilding of the devastated lands."

"You will be interested to know that in response to the crisis, United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Greater Toronto and Combined Jewish Appeal of Montreal have established funds for humanitarian relief aid to the afflicted areas. This is in keeping with the traditional Jewish concept of 'tikkun olam' which translates as 'repair of the world.' It is usually meant in a metaphorical sense but in this instance it will be literal as Haiti works to recover from this devastating earthquake."

"We sincerely hope that this will assist in relieving the human suffering experienced in Haiti."

Dominican Jews hope to assist neighboring quake victims

Jewish residents of Haiti's neighbor the Dominican Republic are readying efforts to help, the Chabad website reported. Speaking from his home in S. Domingo, Rabbi Shimon Pelman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic, reported that he was attempting to ascertain the whereabouts of a handful of Jewish families and visiting Israelis in Haiti, which comprises the western half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.

Although most lines were down in Port au Prince, Pelman concluded through news reports and contacts with the Israeli government that most of the community appeared to have emerged from the quake unscathed. Israel's Foreign Ministry reported however that four Israelis were missing in the aftermath of the quake.

"I'm constantly working the phones," Pelman told the Chabad website. Pelman was teaching a class when the ground started shaking late Tuesday afternoon and ran into the streets for safety. "Right now, we're looking into the possibility of going over there ourselves."

Donations to AJWS's "Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund," which can be made at www.ajws.org/haitiearthquake, will enable AJWS's network of grantees in Haiti to meet the urgent needs of the population based on real-time, on-the-ground assessments.

To contribute to the relief funds in Toronto, go to the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto site at https://www.ujadonations.com/login.asp?destinationsite=donations&destinationid=33 or call 416-635-2883.