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Mass. churches linked to Haiti try to help after devastating storm

Pastor Jean L. Jeune led congregants in prayer during services at Boston’s First Christian Church Source of Grace Sunday.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Pastor Jean L. Jeune implored parishioners to keep their faith.

At an impassioned Sunday service at the First Christian Church Source of Grace in Hyde Park, Jeune spoke to his Haitian-American flock in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which has killed nearly 900 people in Haiti and left thousands more without food, clean water, clothing, or shelter.

“Let us lift our hands to pray for Haiti,” he said to 50 or so church members gathered in the low-ceilinged, ground-level space with plush red chairs and cream-colored walls.

During the service, Jeune recited the parable “Jesus Calms the Storm,” and, later, a box for donations was brought out to collect money for his hometown of Jeremie, which he said was one of the hardest-hit locations on the island.


Many parishioners are from, or have family ties to, Haiti and are concerned that resources will not get to the people who need it most. Flooding and failing infrastructure have made it difficult for aid workers to reach these locations.

“The situation is very bad,” said Jean Raymond Bernard, who is from the southwestern part of Haiti and who has lived in Boston since 2009.

He stressed that for those looking to help, it’s important to contact local authorities.

“They know the area, they know who has already received resources, who hasn’t received anything,” he said.

Bernard said it was a big relief for him to speak to his mother Friday.

“It was a very stressful moment. The hurricane hit Haiti on Tuesday morning, but I was not able to contact my mother,” he said. Thankfully, he ultimately learned “she was OK.”

Bernard said coconut water was been a resource for many in his town, but he is concerned for what happens after it runs out. “The Haitian population is very resilient. But they still need some help,” he said.


Levels of cholera have spiked, and Conor Shapiro, whose foundation runs the St. Boniface Hospital in Fond des Blancs on Haiti’s southern peninsula, said the outlook is grim.

The hospital is part of a network of medical clinics established by the Newton-based nonprofit St. Boniface Haiti Foundation.

Speaking from Port-Au-Prince, Shapiro said the deputy mayor of the town of Les Anglais told him 179 people have died there since Tuesday, including five from cholera. According to Shapiro’s account, 25 new cholera cases were reported after the hurricane.

“Some of the hardest-hit communities in Haiti have not yet been reached by rescue workers,” he said. The destruction of four bridges has made many communities on the peninsula’s western tip unreachable, Shapiro said.

“There needs to be a surge of logistical support that will allow people [to] get aid to those areas, whether that’s by boat or air,” Shapiro said. “People will die in days if we don’t respond.”

St. Boniface is accepting donations on its website. Another local nonprofit with staff on the ground in Haiti is the Saint Rock Haiti Foundation of Milton.

In a statement to the Globe on Sunday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh expressed concern for those affected. “In Boston, we have a strong, proud Caribbean community, and I know many have family or friends impacted,” he said. “In the coming days, as damage is assessed, we will be working to evaluate how Boston can best support recovery efforts.”


Three things people urgently need are food, medicine for cholera, and shelter, said Henso Jeune, another parishoner at the First Christian Church, speaking through a translator.

Jeune, 31, has lived in the Boston area for about a year but is from Chantal, a village outside Les Cayes, another severely struck location. He was able to speak to loved ones in Haiti after the hurricane struck.

“There’s been a lot of crying,” he said.

In a video on his smartphone, he pointed to fallen branches on a lush green landscape with overcast sky and a mountainous backdrop. Just a single house was left standing.

“You see,” he said, motioning to the screen. “You see nothing.”

Marcelle Denis was born in Haiti but has lived in Massachusetts for 30 years. She said her family in Port-Au-Prince is OK and did not experience the same level of devastation as other parts of the country.

“We’re relieved, in a sense, but we’re looking at helping our brothers and sisters,” she said.

Alexandra Koktsidis can be reached at alexandra.koktsidis Follow her on Twitter @akoktsidis. Amanda Burke can be reached Follow her on Twitter @charlie_acb.