On the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina inundated the Gulf Coast of the United States, California-based petroleum transportation company executive Ted Honcharik was in bed, watching the news on television, when across the screen flickered images of Louisiana residents lining up to purchase rations of gasoline that would let them drive north, out of the disaster zone. Honcharik recalls that he said to his wife, “You know what? If I could raise enough money to fill up one of my tankers, I’ll point it in that direction from California, I’ll fly in, meet it, and we’d just give gasoline away to everybody in line, so they could find shelter, get away, take care of themselves.”
Honcharik did exactly that, then did it again a month later after Hurricane Rita hit the Texas coast, along the way establishing a nonprofit organization, Fuel Relief Fund, to manage distribution and solicit donations. When Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, Fuel Relief Fund swung into action. “Haiti was all diesel,” says Honcharik. “We filled up every light stand there, every clinic, every hospital, every orphanage. Everything was powered by generators. So we drove around and physically filled up generators.”
Honcharik, speaking from beside a flatbed truck in Guiuan, Philippines, where volunteers are unloading drums of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel for use by United Nations agencies and NGOs working in relief of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, continues, “Then from there, the tsunami in Japan, and it was snowing. Every Japanese has a little kerosene heater, and we gave away kerosene.
“In Turkey we gave away coal! It was snowing and freezing and everybody burns coal, and we gave away 50-pound sacks of coal! We can go anywhere, do just about anything, and we’re the only ones in the world who do it.
Although Honcharik is in the petroleum transportation business, Fuel Relief Fund buys fuel locally when it arrives in disaster zones. “I always get it from the closest source,” says Honcharik. “I got hold of Petron [the largest oil company in the Philippines] and told them I’d buy it all and give it away for free. Normally I try to get it out to the communities, but the NGOs are hurting so bad, I got to get it to them first so they can start helping everybody.”
Fuel Relief Fund operated for nearly a month in the Philippines, on the island of Leyte, where the cities of Tacloban and Guiuan were hard hit, and pulled out on December 5, 2013, after commercial fuel supplies were restored. Aidpreneur.com’s Roberto De Vido interviewed Fuel Relief Fund founder Ted Honcharik in Guiuan on November 22.
Roberto De Vido is a communications consultant who has lived and worked in Asia for 25 years. He is the editor of Aidpreneur.com and producer of the Terms of Reference podcast.