In a meeting held one week to the hour after an earthquake struck Haiti, city officials Tuesday promised Haitian leaders that Norwich’s experienced support agencies will do all they can to aid local Haitians during the crisis.

In a meeting held one week to the hour after an earthquake struck Haiti, city officials Tuesday promised Haitian leaders that Norwich’s experienced support agencies will do all they can to aid local Haitians during the crisis.

The meeting between 16 Haitian leaders and about as many city officials at City Hall marked the first time either before or after the disaster that both parties met in a formal setting, a milestone participants pledged to build on for years to come.

Norwich officials said they will help undocumented Haitians apply for temporary protected status — a status recently offered by the Obama administration to illegal Haitians in the United States so they can live and work here. An undetermined number of Haitians live in the region on expired visas, a topic of concern raised by Haitians at the meeting.

Similar to what it did in the wake of the Peachtree apartment complex fire in 2008, Norwich will establish a special account — with checks made payable to Norwich Human Services — for donations from the community for the needs of local Haitians.

Nearly all of Norwich’s 3,000-plus Haitians have family in Haiti who were affected by the earthquake, either through death, injury or homelessness. Haitians here have financially supported relatives in Haiti ever since landing jobs in the United States and now that responsibility threatens to overwhelm them.

Also, Norwich Haitians have been encouraged by the casinos to take time off to try to contact and locate loved ones in Haiti. Although some of the time has come from donated personal days by fellow employees, often those days are unpaid.

About 450 workers combined at Foxwoods and Mohegan have relatives in Haiti now.

“Most of us are already financially strapped — it’s not to say you guys aren’t — but what’s happened with the earthquake is there is going to be a greater demand for us here to be a financial supporter,” said Caleb Roseme, a member of the First Haitian Baptist Church in Greeneville.

Roseme, who spoke on behalf of the Haitian leaders at the meeting because his English is stronger than members of the older generation, said the Haitian churches in Norwich will survey their members Sunday to determine just how many relatives have been affected.

A similar survey will be circulated Saturday at Norwich Free Academy during the community’s first citywide fundraiser for relief efforts in Haiti, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Slater Auditorium.

Roseme said Haitians here are looking for a central location to store donated items of food, clothing and other supplies to send to Haiti as soon as possible.

Cynthia Jean-Mary, of Norwich, said a team of about 10 Haitian church leaders plan to join 17 doctors from FaithCare in Farmington on a missions trip to deliver medical supplies to treat people suffering in the countryside surrounding Port-au-Prince.

Jean-Mary said the group is seeking government help in expediting FaithCare’s previously scheduled trip in February, ideas for raising money to pay for the travel expense of the local team and donations of first aid supplies.

Roseme, speaking to City Manager Alan Bergren and representatives of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, Norwich Human Services, the Salvation Army, Norwich Emergency Management, Uncas Health District, the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut and other agencies, that local Haitians don’t expect the community to do all the work.

“Ultimately, this is just about helping people,” he said.

Norwich Bulletin