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Bronx responds to Haiti tragedy

In two decades as a clergyman, Rev. Nathanael Saint-Pierre has never worked so many hours, consoled so many congregants, seen so many tears. Saint-Pierre heads the Haitian Congregation of the Good Samaritan Episcopal Church on E. 219th Street in the Bronx and has led the borough’s response to the earthquake that devastated Haiti on Tuesday, January 12.

“We Haitians in New York City are sad and frustrated,” he said. “I have never had to face such hard issues.”

Saint-Pierre was fortunate not to lose any family members in the disaster but many of his congregants did. More have struggled to contact family members and friends in hastily constructed shelters amid the ruble. Good Samaritan has gathered food and donations for those trapped on the impoverished Caribbean island and Haitians trapped here in New York City as well.

“One of my [congregant’s] families lost six people,” Saint-Pierre said. “One man who lost his sister was unable to find a funeral home in Port-au-Prince and there are no commercial flights to Haiti. He had to have someone there transfer the body to the Dominican Republic [to be cremated]. When commercial flights start again he’ll get the ashes. He needs to grieve but to grieve is not easy.”

The daughter of one congregant brought her daughter to the United States for Christmas. Her home in Haiti has been destroyed and she has no way to return but no job or legal status here. Saint-Pierre hopes to raise money and help the woman gain legal status.

“Unfortunately, we cannot only focus on those in Haiti,” Saint-Pierre said. “There are also crises here.”

Although the Bronx boasts hundreds of thousands of Caribbean immigrants, many from the Dominican Republic, which borders Haiti, the borough is home to only 4,196 people of Haitian heritage and 2,455 Haitian immigrants, census records reveal. In comparison, the Bronx is home to some 143,000 Dominicans and nearly 49,000 Jamaicans.

Most Haitians in the metropolitan area reside in Brooklyn and Rockland County, Saint-Pierre said. His church was established in the Bronx only because the Episcopal Archdiocese of Long Island, which includes Brooklyn, discourages ethnically-based congregations, he explained. Only six or so Good Samaritan families hail from the Bronx.

But the borough’s Caribbean residents have rallied behind Haiti. Saint-Pierre has worked with Krystal Serrano of the Bronx Ameri-Caribbean Chamber of Commerce to establish donation points around the Bronx.

“There has been an outpour of support in the borough,” Serrano said. “We cannot thank our Caribbean people, all people here enough. No matter our differences, when tragedies occur we come together.”

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Senator Ruben Diaz accepted donations for Haiti on Southern Boulevard on Saturday, January 16, new Councilman Fernando Cabrera joined Bronx clergy to transport $3 million in medicine and help for Haiti to the Dominican Republic on Monday, January 18, Montefiore Medical Center plans to send a relief team to the Caribbean and the New York Yankees donated $500,000 to the rescue effort on Wednesday, January 13.

“The Bronx is ready to give [people in Haiti] a hand,” Diaz Jr. said.

But many Haitians in New York City, Saint-Pierre included, are anxious about the disjointed distribution of food and water, the confused rescue effort and an apparent lack of leadership on the ground in Haiti. Sensationalistic television news reports don’t help, the clergyman maintained.

“CNN showed bodies loaded into trucks and dumped into common graves,” Saint-Pierre said. “Why did CNN not help people here find family members [among the dead]? We’re under the impression that there is no real strategy, that people who survived will start to starve soon.”

Saint-Pierre hopes Bronx politicians don’t use the earthquake for personal gain, although he thanked Senator Pedro Espada and Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson for offers of aid to Good Samaritan.

“We have promises but no help yet,” he said.

Serrano and friends have secured an airplane to fly supplies to the Caribbean, she said. Churches around the borough will continue to gather donations. Serrano wants to ensure that “every penny” reaches Haiti, she said.

On Monday, January 18, Saint-Pierre had raised only $500 at Good Samaritan and $3,000 at churches around the borough.

To help, phone 917 232-9583 or 914 497-1931 and email nathoul@optonline.net or info@bronxamericaribbean.org. Bring non-perishable donations – canned food, dry food, hand sanitizer, first-aid kits, sanitary napkins, pampers, etc. to these Bronx Ameri-Caribbean partners: Shalom Seventh-day Adventist Church 3323 White Plains Road, Pioneer Supermarket 790 Allerton Avenue, Dome Groomers 4018 Boston Road, Dome Groomers 3472 Boston Road, Barry’s Jerk Delight 769 Burke Avenue, Chris Jamaican Restaurant 3682 White Plains Road.

Mail checks to Haitian Congregation of the Good Samaritan Church at 661 E. 219th Street Bronx, NY 10467.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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