SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, a group of about 30 volunteers gathered in a supply-filled warehouse on the city's west side.

For several hours, the group stuffed boxes full of towels, soap and bandages intended for Haitians affected by Tuesday's earthquakes.

Their efforts became much more personal when they learned that the national leader of their group, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, had died before being rescued from the ruins of Hotel Montana in Port-au-Prince.

Dixon was in Haiti with two other UMCOR representatives, Clint Rabb, head of mission volunteers, and James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant. The group was trying to improve medical services in the country. Rabb and Gulley were safely rescued.

"It's a roller coaster ride for us because we thought he was safe, and now we're devastated at the loss of our leader," said Brian Diggs, director of the Salt Lake UMCOR office, of Sam Dixon. "He's not just a leader, but a real friend."

More than 100 volunteers gathered Friday and Saturday to assemble health kits to be shipped to Haiti at the UMCOR warehouse in Salt Lake City.

An assembly line was formed, comprising of volunteers from various backgrounds, to verify each kit included a hand towel, washcloth, comb, fingernail clippers, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and bandages.

Diggs, who has been the director since UMCOR opened its Salt Lake office on June 1, 2009, said they had approximately 80 volunteers on Friday and 30 on Saturday. Word spread quickly when Linda Hilton, volunteer coordinator at Crossroads Urban Center, forwarded an e-mail to 250 faith communities in the area including churches, synagogues and mosques.

Diggs is prepared to send out 23,000 to 24,000 health kits on Thursday to their main office in Baldwin, La., which will then be transported to Haiti. UMCOR currently has a team trying to get into Haiti to aid in distributing the health kits. They work closely with other organizations such as LDS Humanitarian Services and the American Red Cross.

Because of donations that arrived in December from North and South Dakota, volunteers at UMCOR in Salt Lake City were able to immediately begin assembling kits with the supplies they had already received.

"Once we start getting word about what's needed in Haiti, we're ready to go," Diggs said. "If you start from scratch after a disaster, it's almost over."

Scott Patton, a volunteer from Salt Lake, was impressed with the supply of donations already stocked in the warehouse.

"The need is going to be for years, and we're prepared for that," Patton said.

In addition to health kits, volunteers have assembled cleaning kits with items like disinfectant, bleach, sponges and detergents, clean birthing kits, bedding kits and school kits. The school kits include blunt scissors, notebook paper, a ruler, pencil sharpener, eraser and crayons.

"In a month or six months or who knows how long, when things get settled, these kids will need school kits to go back and learn and we'll be ready," said Hilton.

Donations are still needed to purchase items for kits that are not complete.

"We spent $5,000 on toothpaste yesterday and it's gone into kits, so you can see the need is great," Hilton said. Because of requirements on what products can be put into the kits, UMCOR is requesting monetary donations to purchase supplies with, rather than specific items.

UMCOR will continue assembling a variety of kits between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Volunteers are welcome to join them at 700 W. 1479 South for any amount of time. Monetary donations may be made through their Web site at www.umcor.org using the advance number 901440.

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"There are a lot of people who want to be there in the first 48 hours," Diggs said. "We also want to be there for the next 48 months, 48 years."

LDS Humanitarian Services is also working to supply victims in Haiti with medical aid in the coming days. Two medical professionals from Washington state and 11 from Utah are leaving Sunday afternoon to fly to Haiti.

Susan Puls, the volunteer medical coordinator for LDS Humanitarian Services, said the team would be under the direction of the missionary area medical adviser. They plan to stay for one week, but Puls said there is a possibility of sending more teams after that.

e-mail: ejames@desnews.com