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Operation: Big Orange

Vanoss is at it again, this time in full gear

By Miriam Orr

It was bitterly cold outside when Steve Vanoss and Leon Gilder circled around a familiar-yellow school bus, idling just outside Vanoss' Maple Plain business, First Pitch.

"After 971 miles from Little Rock to Maple Plain, it's finally here," Gilder explained, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "It was a long trip up here, but the bus made it."

Vanoss is too busy trying to block the Minnesota cold to comment further about the 15,000-pound AmTran International bus. The decals and lettering removed, the bus is the generic, factory-yellow that most would recognize, along with the familiar vinyl seating and folding door.

"Let's get inside and talk about it," Vanoss commented, visibly cold. "I can't wait to get over to Haiti out of this cold!"


Looking back...

Many might remember Steve Vanoss, owner and operator of First Pitch in Maple Lake, as the man who is also internationally heading Caroline's House orphanage in Fonds-des-Nègres, with about 300 children in the community facing difficulties. Vanoss began the project of building an orphanage overseas in July of 2016, and it has been thriving since.

Vanoss has overseen a number of projects since the construction of the orphanage, including shipping vehicles filled with supplies and consumables to the people of the Fonds-des-Nègres community. It's been perilous work, however – everything requires being shipped overseas, where it arrives in Miragoane, and endures a vicious journey to the village, which involves navigating a ravine.

 One of his visions has been to take a bus filled with supplies overseas to the village, where children would be able to travel back and forth to school, and families within the community could be serviced with mass transportation. It's been a challenge finding an available bus, however – until recently.

Vanoss recently purchased a 2006 AmTran International school bus in Arkansas, where a good friend of his, Leon Gilder, drove the vehicle up to Minnesota after purchase. Gilder is a mechanic, and has been involved with helping Vanoss maintenance vehicles to ship overseas to the people of Haiti.

"It's my way of giving back," Gilder stated. "I give the vehicles a once-over before they ship out to Haiti, and make sure the consumable parts are ready to go – brakes, oil filters, that sort of thing. Those people really need help, and it just makes me feel good knowing I'm helping in even a small way."

Gilder has serviced the bus, which is now ready for donations. Vanoss' goal is to have the bus filled and ready for shipment sometime in June for a July arrival to Haiti, where it will make the journey to the village.

To get there, though, requires two things – Minnesota community involvment, and also construction on the Haitian end.


Part one: Minnesota

Minnesota's half of the project is pretty simple, comments Vanoss. Since the Wright County Journal-Press' story on Vanoss' heart and vision for the people of Haiti some months ago, the community's response has been "through the roof," Vanoss shared. So far, his donations have doubled, and so many have stepped forward to help his dream come alive.

"I'm so grateful for the help," Vanoss said. "It really helps take some weight off my shoulders – the provisional part. I know that the community is here to help me, and that just gladdens my heart. Now the burden on my heart for the people just continues to grow and grow!"

The bus, Vanoss stated, will circulate around the community and receive donations a week or two at a time. For instance, the first place he is hoping to park the vehicle is the Maple Plain Community Church, where donations can be received at the church office and loaded on board. A similar scheme is slated for other locations within the community, though details haven't been entirely finalized.

"The bus can hold about 8,000 pounds," Vanoss estimated. "It's not its max weight, but I thought that was a reasonable limit to prepare to ship overseas."

The bus has already gone through a "complicated" licensing procedure, and has been mechanically fine-tuned and approved by Vanoss' friend, Gilder.

"All it needs now is the donations!" Gilder affirmed.

Items that are currently in demand for the community range from children's clothing, hand and power tools, to shoes and dishes. Vanoss is looking to fill the bus with "gently used" items, as they tend to last longer for the people in the community.

"The donations have been such a blessing, and I hope people are still moved enough to help fill this bus," Vanoss said.

Once the bus undergoes the donation phase of the operation, it will travel to Miami, Fla., where it will be parked on a ship to cross the ocean, to arrive in Miragoane, Haiti with three other vehicles that Vanoss is sending, as well. He's been shipping vehicles and goods with Seacoast Shipping for a number of "supply runs," and has been impressed with their service and efforts.

Another challenge, though, is the financial aspect of the operation.

"It costs $110.00 per foot to ship something," he said. "It gets pretty expensive. I'm looking at about $4,000 to ship the bus alone, not including the other vehicles I want to send too. The numbers just add up really fast, and that makes it really tough."


Part two: Haiti

The bus is slated to arriv in Haiti by late July, early August, commented Vanoss. However, before the bus can go anywhere, there's a major delay in operation: the ravine leading into Fonds-des-Nègres.

"There is absolutely no way a bus can cross that ravine. It's top heavy, and would topple over," he said. "A bridge needs to happen, first."

And happen it will. Vanoss is currently scheduled in Haiti as of Wednesday, April 11, where he will begin overseeing construction of a long-awaited bridge across the ravine. That was only made possible, however, by an anonymous, local donor not too long ago, who told Vanoss that they would fund the project with a $6,000 check.

"I was so stunned that I almost cried," Vanoss said. "It was such a burden and a concern for me, and now it is finally going to happen. The people have been waiting and praying so long for this. It's going to help so much."

Until the bridge is complete, the bus has to wait on Minnesota soil before it can arrive on Haitian shores. There is a lot to be done in the process, however – including preparing kids for the upcoming school year, and making arrangements at the orphanage.

For Vanoss, one of those tasks is settling in his two newborn twin girls, Anna Rose and Ava Marie, who were born in February. Vanoss' wife, Venite, has been caring for them as her husband goes back and forth between the States and Haiti, and Vanoss couldn't be more thrilled to go and see them.

"I've seen them as I go back and forth, but I just can't wait each time I prepare to go," Vanoss said, thrilled. "They are just such a blessing, and such beautiful girls."

 As Vanoss sees his family, he also meets other members of the community during his visits. While oversight on the bridge remains a priority this trip, he and the staff of the orphanage will also begin examining efforts to prepare for school, as that is the biggest arch of his vision.

"There are just so many kids that are going through life there, uneducated," he stated. "They're just floundering out there; kids with a lot of talent and dreams, as well as responsibility. They have no chance at a prosperous life without education. I just want this to be about thriving, not just survival."


Rallying the community

 While the community's outreach towards his vision has been helpful, Vanoss is still looking for any helping hands he can find. He is currently planning a trip in late 2018, where he is looking for people to join him on his ventures and help out on projects.

"It isn't just about the work," Vanoss commented. "I want people to go and see these folks, for who they are and where they are. I want them to fall in love with the Haitian people, like I have, and experience what I have experienced. It's such an enriching experience."

What's more, Vanoss hopes for donations and active participation with "Operation Big Orange," a name which he has given the bus project. Donations of children's clothing and shoes, adult shoes, toiletries, kitchens supplies, linens, tools, and mattresses are all items that are desperately in need by the Fonds-des-Nègres children and surrounding communities.

For more information on the bus route, how to donate, or potentially volunteering, please contact Steve Vanoss at 612-500-1995, or

"This is about people – the mission hasn't changed. The community has been such a blessing, and I am so thankful for that. However, with a bridge coming along, and the school year coming up, and a bus that is going overseas, I could use all the helping hands and support the community has to offer. I don't say that lightly – I am truly thankful. I couldn't be more thankful for the help and positivity of the people. And rest assured, they are more appreciative for our generosity than you could ever possibly believe."


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