One of the central meeting places for Haitians in Los Angeles is a little restaurant in Echo Park. People have been gathering there to talk about the earthquake devastation in Haiti - and what they might be able to do to help.
Georges La Guerre is the owner at Tigeorges restaurant on Glendale Boulevard in Echo Park.
He has been working the tables for the lunch crowd, serving up rice and beans and Carribean chicken. And he has been working the phones helping coordinate the little relief effort for Haiti from Los Angeles.
"It’s a very sad situation," he says. "A country that is not prepared and doesn't have experience in dealing with a quake - and something of that magnitude happening. The whole country is out of order. So it’s bad."
He says most of the homes are made of concrete and nestled in hillsides. He says most are not built to any construction code.
La Guerre says he was able to get only one call through to family. It was the night of the quake. The call broke up after a few moments, just after his cousin told him “Haiti needs help.”
La Guerre says people in Haiti need everything from medicines to big machines. "Yes, real help. Bulldozers that will remove the slabs of concrete. Haiti doesn’t have that."
A steady stream of people comes into the brightly painted little neighborhood restaurant offering support. Many are Haitian. Others share memories of having lived in Haiti as a missionary or musician. Some 10,000 Haitians live in California.
P. Cadichon from Burbank comes in the restaurant and says he wants to help organize and expand the relief effort. Much of his family is still in Haiti. He is anxious because he hasn’t been able to talk to anyone there. "The epicenter. That area is where all my family is from," he says. "So I personally want to know what’s going on. That’s where all my ancestors are so I want to go over there and help."
But he says he has no idea how anyone in his family is doing. He can't get through via email, cell phone, Facebook or any other way. And while lots of people want to help, just getting any kind of aid into Haiti is a huge challenge.
Maggy Gousse comes in the restaurant next. Her family is from Haiti as well and she has been going back and forth to Haiti all her life. She says she got a call from someone with an envoy trying to go to Haiti to help.
They needed a place there to stay. "And the question is to get into contact with anyone who has property in Haiti so they could be staying there." But she says even people going there to help, there’s no place to say because everything is crumbled.
Gousse says Haiti has a history of political exploitation and economic upheaval. But she says this is the “top of the top” of devastation. She fights back tears as she speaks. "I feel hopeless," she says. "Hopeless. I can’t do anything. Right now I’m here in Los Angeles when I want to be on a plane going over there."'
Maggy Gousse says Haitian people are resilient and strong. She says she hopes this disaster becomes the call to action that finally focuses the resources of the world on Haiti.
TiGeorges Restaurant is hosting a meeting Thursday at 5 p.m. for anyone who wants to come offer donations and ideas of how to help Haiti in the earthquake relief effort.