STAMFORD, Conn. -- Americans are opening their hearts and wallets to Haiti as the impoverished nation struggles with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which killed an estimated 1,000 people in the Caribbean country, officials said as they called for efforts to be continued.
U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Stamford Mayor David Martin joined representatives from nonprofits Americares; Hope for Haiti, with offices in Stamford, and Fairfield-based Save the Children at an event Tuesday at the Americares global distribution center in Stamford.
Blumenthal said nonprofits play a vital role in aiding people after disasters and can respond in ways that governments may not be able to do.
"Let me just be very blunt: The federal government is doing its best to address this human catastrophe in Haiti, but Americares and private aid are necessary to fill those gaps," he said.
Martin praised Americares for its work in helping hard-hit countries around the world.
"Once again Americares is there to help," Martin said. "I want to thank Americares for being there so many times, in so many different ways and in so many different places. And I am proud that Americares has made Stamford its home."
Americares CEO Michael Nyenhuis praised Connecticut groups for jumping in to help.
"We have a charitable state," he said, "that in times of crisis provides real aid and help on the ground. And we are excited to be part of that group here today."
Americares has also helped people in the Southeast United States, especially the Carolinas, which was also hard hit by Hurricane Matthew, with an estimated 43 people killed from Florida to Virginia, he said.
Among the guests at the event were Angelucci Manigat, publisher and editor in chief of the Haitian Voice, and Rahoul Dupervil, of the United Haitian Society of Connecticut.
They welcomed the aid of Americares and other organizations and countries, but they also voiced a concern shared by some Haitian-Americans that decisions about aid are done by foreign groups with little input from Haitians or Haitian Americans.
"We appreciate the solidarity, but it also can be demeaning when other people are telling your stories when you are not at the table," Manigat said.
Both men praised the event host Americares.
"We are supporting the work of Americares because we know Americares is doing a great job," Dupervil said. "Now we need to figure out how can we be invoked as a community, as a Haitian community in Connecticut. To be involved in some of the decision-making on how the distribution should be done. But we are not. We are not."
Nyenhuis said it's a concern Americares is aware of and said the organization works hard to ensure that it works with the existing health care structure in Haiti.
'Our approach at Americares is to invest in the local health system. We don't go and set up and create a parallel structure of temporary hospitals and clinics," he said. "We work directly with the local clinics and hospitals to find out what they need and help them."
He said Americares listens to people on the ground and the government to see what is needed. He said nonprofits such as Americares have staff members on the ground who are Haitian and who provide direction.
"They are Haitian-led, Haitian-run at the local level and that's what makes a difference," he said. "Our job really is to yield to them what are they articulating as the need. How do we support them to support the people of Haiti? Our job as North Americans is not to make decisions for what happens in Haiti but to listen to the voice of our own Haitian staff and of our Haitian partners and the Haitian government to find out what they are articulating and do that."
It was a concern Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) heard at a meeting in Bridgeport last week that both Dupervil and Manigat attended.
Blumenthal said the priority is to provide basic, essential aid immediately.
'I understand the apprehension, but we need to overcome it with better communication and more outreach and more engagement of the Haitian community here, which is a very vibrant and active one."