After Disaster, Cafe as Community

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Photo by United Nations Development Programme/FlickrCC


To donate money toward food aid in Haiti, click here or scroll to the bottom of this post for more information.

It was around dinnertime Wednesday and Chez Clotilde, a restaurant and hangout in the heart of the Haitian community in Flatbush, Brooklyn, was crowded. But the food—staples like legume (a thick stew of beef, vegetables, and beans), squash soup, and rice and peas—was not what had drawn them. Most people, in fact, were not eating at all. They gathered around tables or stood clutching cell phones and stared at the TV as images of their native country, devastated by Tuesday's 7.0-magnitude earthquake, flashed across the screen.

Almost everyone in the room had family in Haiti, but with phone networks overloaded and no electricity on the island, all but a handful hadn't actually spoken with relatives since the quake. Anxious and saddened by what seemed a tragedy too unbearable for a country already broken by poverty and years of political turmoil, they came to trade bits of information and see what could be done.

"Everyone that comes here, I tell them bring a can of beans, bring a bag of rice, bring cereal, whatever," she said.

"Everyone's upset, we all have family there," said Marco Laplace, a Chez Clotilde regular. "We're trying to put our heads together. We have each other." That's also why Marc-Kensen, a math teacher—a he would not give his last name—had come to Chez Clotilde, even though he lives a few neighborhoods away in Park Slope. Chez Clotilde, he said, is not just a restaurant but a "cultural center," a place for Haitians "to talk, to eat." He knew he would find others there who wanted to do something to help. Already a plan was developing to start a drive for canned foods and medical supplies. The details - how and where the goods would be gathered and sent - were still being worked out.

A few blocks away, BG L'Auberge Creole Restaurant also served as a gathering place for Haitian immigrants in the wake of the news, although there were fewer diners than usual. "It's hard," said owner Edeline St.-Amand, making the motion of eating. She was slumped in a chair behind the counter, her eyes on the flat-screen TV and a cell phone in one hand. She had not been able to reach her mother-in-law or other relatives. All day people had trickled into the restaurant, she said, but most were not very hungry. "We give them ginger tea," she added, gesturing to a samovar. "It's free." Wiping tears from her face, she said had begun collecting food and clothing. "Everyone that comes here, I tell them bring a can of beans, bring a bag of rice, bring cereal, whatever," she said, adding that she hoped to be able to send them to Haiti by the weekend.

Behind her, a few young men stood in the dining room, speaking loudly in French Creole. "Some people, they're angry at God," Marie Dennery, a nurse who had come to be with her friend St.-Amand, said, shrugging a shoulder in the direction of the men. "God's not supposed to let something like this happen. Haiti's a poor country."

Henry Mackensen, another BG regular, had that day received good news from Haiti: his mother and five-year-old son were alive—homeless, but alive. He hadn't slept since the earthquake. He said he was waiting for the American government to take control of the relief effort. "We just need help. Not just with the earthquake. In everything."

HOW TO GIVE

You can donate money toward food aid in Haiti by clicking the following links:
Food For The Poor
The Feed Foundation (World Food Programme emergency aid)
FEED Projects (buy bags to support school food programs)

Other organizations providing non-food aid in Haiti:
American Red Cross
Partners in Health
Catholic Relief Services

To get in touch with loved ones in Haiti: if they are US citizens call the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747. If not, you can register and search for missing family members at the partner site of the Red Cross.

You can also text the word "Haiti" to 90999 and ten dollars will be donated to relief through the American Red Cross.

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Rebecca Rothbaum is a New York-based freelance writer who has contributed to the New Yorker, Gourmet, New York magazine, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among other publications.

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