Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Flying pastor from Boonton, New Jersey, helps Haiti

On Aug. 20, Pastor Andrew Topp of the First Reformed Church of Boonton took his Piper Cherokee 6/300 out for its maiden voyage. The destination was Haiti and the purpose was a mission for the International Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHAF), which he founded six years ago.

The six-passenger plane can carry 900 pounds of cargo, enabling Topp to be more efficient in his work for IHAF, a relief organization that provides assistance to those in great need through a network of supporters, donors, and volunteers. While help is given locally as needed, a frequent locale for Topp is Haiti.

"It is so close and so poor," he explained.

He was there when the earthquake hit in 2010, working to build an orphanage and school for girls at Consolation Center. It was then that he realized a private plane would make it easier to bring more things as well as heavier items. On this current mission, the cargo includes solar panels for the Consolation Center, where the next project is a boy’s orphanage and a facility that will provide temporary housing and vocational training to families at risk of breaking up due to financial problems.

"It is to stop the tide of children being pushed to the street because of a family’s hardship," said Topp.

The multi-talented Topp is also a contractor and is building the Consolation Center out of converted shipping containers, which he said are "sturdy, economical, and versatile."

He has designed the Consolation Center to be like a self-contained village with its own solar power, compost, and toilet system. The private plane allows for the easy transporting of the solar panels, which Topp noted are too big for commercial flights. Shipping is not convenient as it is costly and takes time, not to mention, because of the value of the panels, they may not make it to the intended place.

Topp has flown with private pilots, but three years ago obtained his own pilot’s license. It was a year ago that he started looking to purchase a plane. A friend who is the owner of Bayonne Community Bank helped to secure the loan.

IHAF helps wherever people need assistance. Donated warehouse space allows them to collect and distribute items as they did after Superstorm Sandy. Topp is also involved in bringing those in need of medical treatment to the centers that can administer it. For example, he has flown in a boy with a deformed foot, a badly burned girl who needed surgery, and a young woman with head injuries sustained in the earthquake. "This is where the plane is very valuable," said Topp, noting that commercial flights and the long lines at customs can be too much for someone ill or injured.

He is looking to do more medical assistant flights.

"Any time I think a plane can be an asset, I will use it," said Topp.

The First Reformed Church of Boonton, said Topp, "is very supportive providing funds and giving me time off, they see this as their outreach as well."

Topp appreciates any help people can offer, be it with time or donations. For more information, visit the IHAF website at Topp can be contacted at

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