Photo by United Nations Development Programme/FlickrCC
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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'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.