Social service agencies collaborate to boost support for immigrants, refugees in Greenfield


GREENFIELD — Dozens of social service agencies convened remotely last week for a briefing on the status of the immigrants and refugees staying at the Days Inn, and to begin establishing ways to better coordinate service efforts.

Earlier this month, the city received just hours’ notice from the state that due to a “critical shortage of affordable housing in the state,” families with children would be provided emergency shelter in Greenfield. Currently, there are 41 families, many of whom are Haitian immigrants coming from the Boston area, staying at the hotel on Colrain Road. Several families have students enrolled in Greenfield public schools, amounting to 15 students in kindergarten through 11th grade.

“This was a surprise for all of us,” Franklin County Sheriff and Opioid Task Force Co-Chair Christopher Donelan, who moderated Friday’s discussion, said of the 41 families’ sudden arrival. “Not to anyone’s surprise was the willingness of the people of Greenfield to step up and help.”

“The city of Greenfield is always going to help in the ways in which we can,” added Mayor Roxann Wedegartner.

Health Director Jennifer Hoffman said she feels the city has been “looking at this as a humanitarian crisis … not a political thing.”

“We just want to help these families the best we can,” Hoffman said.

Although the Health Department continues to accept and coordinate donations and ensure the health, safety and privacy of the families, ServiceNet has been tapped as the point of contact. As the state’s contracted service provider, ServiceNet is working with the families to connect them with health care services, transportation, meals and landlords.

“It’s been amazing the outpouring of support we’ve seen … and one of the things we’re interested in seeing is … making sure that enthusiasm is met with the privacy and safety we’re aiming for,” said Amy Diehl, communications specialist at ServiceNet.

Maximizing efforts through coordinationDiehl noted that the nonprofit is also working with immigration lawyers to help obtain necessary legal documents, like identification cards and licenses, and work permits. Representatives from the MassHire Franklin Hampshire Career Center advised they could help find work for adults, but also connect teens to programs that would help connect them with other people their age.

In terms of donations, ServiceNet is seeking toiletries and diapers, as well as new car seats and lightly used strollers. Although gift card donations are welcome, cash is encouraged.

“We really want these families to feel like they can get out into the community,” Diehl said.

Hoffman — who emphasized again that donations should be directed to the Health Department rather than the Days Inn itself — said that while she appreciates the many people who have offered to provide transportation to folks at the hotel, the process is more complicated than simply offering someone a ride, as there are children involved and language barriers, as well as license and insurance requirements. Wedegartner noted she has a meeting planned with the Franklin Regional Transportation Authority about ways it can help.

One reoccurring topic that came up during Friday’s discussion was the need to coordinate meal efforts, as so many agencies and nonprofits, as well as local restaurateurs — including the owner of Mesa Verde on Fiske Avenue — have stepped up to provide food to the families.

“The chief of my concerns is families are getting nutritious food that is satisfying their needs,” added Stone Soup Café Executive Chef and Director Kirsten Levitt. “We know the Days Inn has done the best they can and we know there’s been a lot of supplementing. We have the capacity to make culturally significant food that’s appropriate for these families, but we also have kitchens in the county we could open for women to come to cook food … at times we’re not in operation. We want people to feel like they’re self-sufficient.”

Hoffman noted that so far, excess food has been brought to feed the local homeless population, ensuring that nothing goes to waste.

Shey Jaboin, an outreach specialist for Haitian families at the Boston-based Federation for Children with Special Needs, thanked everyone who has coordinated efforts to help the 41 families. Jaboin explained that she, too, is Haitian and was once new to the country, only knowing her mother and brother.

“When I came in, I felt the disconnection and the isolation,” Jaboin said. “Emotional support is very important. These populations have been going through a lot of trauma, so don’t forget that.”

Local businesses step upAt least one local business is collecting items for the families at the hotel in hopes of making them feel more included in the community.

“What we’ve noticed is that a lot of people are rushing to the aid as far as food,” said Diana Nunez of Namaste Indian & Nepalese Restaurant. “We’re trying to get some gift certificates, some money, some skateboards … and really invite them into the community itself.”

Nunez said Hens & Chicks, the consignment shop on Main Street, has donated books. Other items Nunez is recommending include hair and skin products or exercise equipment, for example.

“Local business gift certificates are important because it allows them to try things they want to try as opposed to things that are chosen for them,” she said.

Donations can be dropped off at the restaurant at 286 Main St. for Nunez to bring to the Health Department, which is helping to alleviate storage issues at the hotel.

“Food and shelter, obviously they’re the two most important things, but … I drove by [the Days Inn] one day and I was thinking they seem very enclosed,” Nunez said. “There’s so much more to the town they could benefit from.”

Monetary donations can be made online at Money can be directed to the families in Greenfield directly by including a note in the “Other” section on the form.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.

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