Retired Miami Beach Lifeguard Has the Goods, Now He Needs a Ride to Haiti

Old hippie lifeguard turned hero for Haiti Jim Goodnow pops open the side of an ambulance, where he's been sleeping for the past two months.

"Let's see what's behind door number one!" the ponytailed 70-year-old hollers.

Inside, it looks like the Grateful Dead decided to run a hospital. There are 20 sets of crutches piled up, four wheelchairs, an x-ray machine, and enough bottled water to hydrate a small village. Plus a bunch of teddy bears and spiritual art.

Goodnow, who patrolled Miami Beach in 1959, put his life on hold when the quake hit Haiti. He bought a cheap ambulance, packed up his things, and drove from Texas to Miami thinking he could do some good. He got donations from friends he made along the way: boisterous firemen, a wealthy dentist, a good-natured mechanic. His supplies range from portable toilets to oxygen tanks.

Now in Miami, there's only one problem: No agency will accept the aid. He has tried the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Partners in Health. "It's a big boondoggle," he says. "This machine could save lives."

As donations to Haiti taper off -- and heavy spring rains swamp homeless camps on the island -- Goodnow plans to hitch a ride on a cargo ship based in Riviera Beach. It will cost him $2,070, and he's fundraising to pay the fare.

Spokesperson Cynthia Gutierrez says Red Cross can't accept the goods because storing, sorting, and shipping them isn't the best use of time and money. She adds that donations have dropped in the past month.

Standing a few blocks from Biscayne Bay, Goodnow stares at the water as if it just called his name. "I'm talking about the first in a fleet of ships," he says. "I won't let this stop me."

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Natalie O'Neill
Contact: Natalie O'Neill