Haiti relief efforts underway in Roxbury
Organizers expected several hundred people to turn out to Hibernian Hall Saturday to drop off supplies and make donations to their Haiti relief effort.
More than 2,000 people turned out over the course of the day, leaving more than $16,000 in donations and tens of thousands worth of donated food, clothing and medical supplies.
Looking over the jumble of donated items packed into cardboard boxes that filled a Roxbury warehouse-sized storage facility, event organizer Nancy Rousseau said she was impressed with the outpouring of support.
“To actually see the numbers of people who turned out was overwhelming,” she said. “I’m Haitian-American, born in the U.S. I remember being a kid and hearing how people used to mock us for being Haitians. To see more than 85 community organizations pull together in two days and pull this off without hesitation — it’s been an eye-opener.”
Donors streamed into Hibernian Hall throughout the day while volunteers provided food and entertainment. Marvin Venay, one of the organizers of the event, said he was impressed with the show of solidarity for Haiti.
“It wasn’t just black people, Haitians or Hispanics,” said Venay, the executive director of the Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus. “You saw white people. You saw Asian people. People were unloading boxes. We had an open door that said we’re all unified here.”
The Roxbury relief effort was part of a broader response from Boston residents and elected officials aimed at helping those in Haiti who are struggling to deal with the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and Haitians living in Massachusetts who are seeking news of their family members and friends in Haiti.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino pledged the city’s assistance to Haitians.
“All Bostonians are with you in these difficult times,” he told the crowd of several hundred Haitians who gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End last Wednesday.
City officials collaborated with local charities setting up a referral and support center that is being housed at the Service Employees International Union Local 1199 office in Dorchester.
The center is offering phone lines and computer access to help local Haitians locate family members.
Menino and other elected officials, including U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Deval Patrick and state Representatives Marie St. Fleur and Linda Dorcena Forry pledged their support to the Haitian community.
St. Fleur and Dorcena Forry said their offices were inundated with calls from constituents who were desperate for news of family members.
Kerry joined other elected officials in demanding that President Barack Obama grant immediate protective status to all Haitians in the U.S., a move that would prevent any of them from being deported back to Haiti.
“It would be absurd not to do that, given the circumstances,” he said, during the meeting at the cathedral.
Patrick told the gathering that he has pledged state rescue resources to the Obama administration’s relief effort.
“I know you are stressed and worried, but you are not alone,” he said. “Call on us and we will do everything we can.”
The idea for the Hibernian Hall event came at the end of last Wednesday’s meeting. In the back of the cathedral, Rousseau met with other black activists to plan a local relief effort.
Among those who took charge were Michael Curry of the Massachusetts Association of Community Health Centers, Mass VOTE organizer Cheryl Crawford, Venay and Rousseu, who is director of career counseling at the Urban College of Boston.
“It was really heartening to see this type of solidarity in the black community,” said Janine Quarles, an organizer with the Union of Minority Neighborhoods who also worked on the effort. “It’s going to take years to rebuild in Haiti, but this gave me hope.”
A portion of the supplies collected Saturday was due to be delivered to Haiti with a delegation leaving for the island Tuesday. The remainder of the materials will be shipped later in the week, according to Rousseau.