LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — To survive the coronavirus pandemic, businesses, organizations and individuals have all had to pivot in some way. The South Florida Haitian community has really been hit hard economically. A majority of them suddenly lost their jobs when restaurants and hotels were forced to shut down.
Hands Together for Haitians has supported that community for years and still is -- this time helping them to rebound in a different way.
"Some of the families, both parents have lost jobs or cut down on the number of hours and that really affects their ability to pay their bills and provide for their families," Nancy Anderson, a nurse who founded the nonprofit 15 years ago, told WPTV NewsChannel 5.
Anderson opened a facility in Lake Worth Beach with a mission to fill the educational gap within the Palm Beach County Haitian community when it comes to financial, computer and health literacy. For more than a decade now, adults and children have been able to take free computer classes and courses there.
"It helps them deal with some of their basic health issues, pain, relaxation, going to the doctor, how to read their prescriptions, just some very basics like that," Anderson said.
COVID-19 forced those important classes to come to a halt. But the group chose not to close. Instead, they changed course to make sure those families don't go hungry.
"We've always done a little outreach with food ministry and now that we've closed our programs down, our center is taken over by our food pantry, which is really serving the needs at the moment of the community," Anderson said.
Orestal Michel was one of the group's very first computer class clients years ago. He has since become one of their biggest volunteers. Now, he is again on the receiving end of their outreach.
Michel lost his job as a banquet server at a local hotel. Michel said he is unsure what he would do without the organization and calls its help a gift. He said it's impossible to explain how much the group has helped the entire Palm Beach County Haitian community.
"They struggling right now," he said. "They really have problem to pay the bills, to pay utility and then to pay the rent, not even to eat."
Anderson hopes the organization can return to regular programming by the fall. But, for now, she said, it will continue operating as a food pantry as long as the community needs it. Restaurants like Buccan and St. Paul the Cross Church are helping to deliver more than 500 meals per week.