Washington’s defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois knows first-hand what it takes to make an impact on the front line.  His play has spurred the improvement of the NFL franchise’s defense leading them on a four game win streak and to second place in the NFC east.

However, the team’s success is only a part time diversion from the thoughts of those dealing with another recovery in his family’s homeland.  Francois and receiver Pierre Garcon are of Haitian descent and with the help of the Washington football team have become major players in the NFL’s commitment to relief efforts after the devastation from Hurricane Andrew.

Washington football players Pierre Garcon (88) and Ricky Jean-Francois  (not pictured) have been volunteering their time in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington football players Pierre Garcon (88) and Ricky Jean-Francois (not pictured) have been volunteering their time in Haiti in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

“ keeps my mind occupied for a second but reality always sets in,” said Francois.  “It bothers me but it really doesn’t get to me. I’ve still got a smile on my face because slowly but surely things are getting back together.”

“I just hope more people join in so we can get them the help they need”.

Francois and Garcon spent little time celebrating Washington’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 9.  Team owner Daniel Snyder donated his personal airplane so Garcon and Francois could continue their hurricane relief efforts.  Armed with medical supplies on their owner’s airliner they went to the impoverished Caribbean nation trying to bring hope on what is normally an off day.  That was the franchise’s second mission in less than a week at the time following a mission to the Bahamas which began its commitment to help with the post Matthew recovery.

“ knew we were Haitian and wanted us to go down there to make sure everybody was OK,” said Francois.  “I take my hat off to Dan Snyder because he didn’t have to make his plane available or provide supplies for us to take down there. That says a lot about our owner.”

By the time Francois and Garcon arrived in Port Au Prince the death toll had reached over 1,000.  Most hospitals were either inoperable or without adequate medical supplies.  Their “much needed” cargo included basics such as alcohol, peroxide and IVs that are vital in the fight against the epidemic of cholera which is still a concern as the recovery from Matthew continues.

While images of the destruction have faded from media coverage the lives affected by Matthew continue to rise.  Over one million Haitians have been killed or displaced by this latest hurricane which slammed the island nation with torrential storms fueled by 140 miles per hour winds Oct. 4.  The devastation is so severe that many of the dead have been buried in mass graves throughout the country to curtail the spread of cholera as bodies began to decompose.

Francois and Garcon are using the NFL stage to promote the relief efforts and keep Haiti at the top of America’s consciousness. They are spokesmen and ambassadors for the nation sharing its virtues despite its peril.  For Washington’s game versus the Philadelphia Eagles they wore special “Pray for Haiti” red, white, and blue cleats that is considered a violation of the league’s dress code which could have led to a fine.

“It’s worth paying the fine if it keeps attention on Haiti,” said Francois.

Some Haitian American groups have been critical of previous relief efforts which could have better prepared Haiti for Hurricane Matthew. But instead of people making financial contributions Francois feels the most immediate impact will come from those who volunteer to help put care packages together.

“We don’t need your money, checks, or ATM cards,” said Francois. “We need people’s time to help pack the supplies for delivery”.