Boston unions step up to assist in recovery effort

Local unions are organizing efforts to raise funds for Haiti after a massive earthquake devastated the poor island nation.
SEIU Local 1199, which has 4,000 Haitians among its membership, will be fundraising and planning to send a delegation to Haiti to offer volunteer services from nurses and other health workers, according to Herbert Jean-Baptiste, chair of the Haitian Caucus within the union.
He is also working to get SEIU Locals 615 and 509 involved as well, he said.
SEIU 1199’s Mt. Vernon St. headquarters in Dorchester is functioning as a resource center, with doors opening at 9 a.m. and remaining open until 9 p.m. The center will be open throughout the weekend, with translators, crisis counselors and others available.
Phone lines and computers will also be available.
“They can call a loved one directly from our system,” Jean-Baptiste said. “If they don’t have an [e-mail]account, we’ll set one up for them,” he added.
The mayor’s Office of Emergency Preparedness is making disaster medical assistance teams, urban search and rescue groups to Haiti, as well as $1 million in search and rescue equipment.
A relief fund has been set up at Bank of America, called the “Fund for Boston Neighborhoods, Inc. – Haitian Family Relief.”
Jean-Baptiste said he’s still trying to reach his family members in Haiti.
“People are very stressed out because they cannot get in touch with their loved ones,” he said.
Others who gathered to plan a strategy at SEIU headquarters on Wednesday evening also expressed frustrations.
“I’ve been sending e-mail, I’ve tried to call,” said Marie Regis of Roslindale. “I hope to get in touch with them to make sure they’re all right.”
“At this point we really don’t know what’s going on,” said Marie Polynice of Medford. “We see a lot of buildings collapsed. A lot of damage. But we can’t get in touch with anybody. I don’t know if my family is still alive or not.”
Asked about the efforts being set up in Boston, Polynice said, “I think it’s good, but at this point they need bodies on site [in Haiti] to help.”
Jean-Baptiste remained hopeful. “We believe we’re going to work through it,” he said.