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Local chef's foundation aiding Haiti earthquake relief effort
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Last updated: Thursday January 21, 2010, 1:20 AM
Town Journal
FOR TOWN JOURNAL

Allendale Bar & Grill (AB&G) chef Pierre Romain was getting ready for work when he got the phone call. Something had happened in his native Haiti.

Allendale Bar & Grill chef Pierre Romain, left, with his mother, Rose, on a recent trip back to his native Haiti. The Rose Foundation, which Pierre named after his mother, is raising money to help the relief effort after a Jan. 12 earthquake killed up to an estimated 200,000 people.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ROSE FOUNDATION
Allendale Bar & Grill chef Pierre Romain, left, with his mother, Rose, on a recent trip back to his native Haiti. The Rose Foundation, which Pierre named after his mother, is raising money to help the relief effort after a Jan. 12 earthquake killed up to an estimated 200,000 people.

He turned on the TV, but there were still no pictures coming out of the island. He went online and read about the earthquake. Panicked, he called his 85-year-old mother, Rose, but couldn’t get through. He would eventually discover she was unharmed.

"Haiti was a complete mess after the hurricanes," said Romain, who last visited the island in February 2008, just months before Haiti was pummeled by violent storms that killed 800 and destroyed 60 percent of the country’s harvest.

"I knew there was no way the infrastructure could cope with an earthquake, especially so soon after that," Romain said.

In the wake of that disaster, Romain started a foundation named after his mother to help his former homeland. Romain’s idea was to help empower and educate, but following the Jan. 12 earthquake, which is estimated to have claimed as many as 200,000 lives on the island, the foundation has a new, more immediate goal.

The foundation reached out to the community for any assistance it could find, and was rewarded generously with every request. E-mail chains began, passed from individuals and groups, offices and homes, and donations started to come in fast.

"It was a humbling experience," Romain said. "It was beyond emotional."

At work, Romain was supported in a way he could never have imagined. Since many of the kitchen staff at the AB&G and its sister restaurant, the Mahwah Bar & Grill, are also from Haiti, donations have been frequent.

"I’ve shed many a tear over the support I’ve found," Romain said. "I know a lot of the customers, but people I don’t know have walked up to me and handed over checks."

Local groups have also help spread the word. The foundation’s initial goal of $10,000 was more than doubled within the campaign’s first 24 hours. Romain’s wife, Mary, also found support through her office when her employer Ashley Stewart made a $10,000 matching donation and teamed up with the Rose Foundation. The Guardian Angel Roman Catholic Church in Allendale offered its auditorium free of charge for a Feb. 20 fundraiser dinner. People from all over have also donated clothing, blankets, water and other items.

By press time, the total money raised is over $22,000.

Romain’s sisters, Josette, a doctor based in Orlando, Fla., and Michelle, who works with Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization, are preparing to head into Haiti to take the aid directly to where it’s most needed.

"They will oversee the aid personally," Romain said. "We want to help, but we are not averse to teaming up with another group to get the most support for those who need it."

For all the local support, Romain’s thoughts are never far from the country he left when he was just 13, and to the friends and family he still hasn’t heard from. A close family friend was last heard of when heading to Carrefour, Romain’s former hometown and the epicenter of the earthquake.

"It’s very painful being thousands of miles away and still not knowing what is going on," he said.

To support the Rose Foundation, to read more about its work or find more details on the Guardian Angel Roman Catholic Church fundraiser, visit rosefoundationofhaiti.org. Donations can be mailed to The Rose Foundation, 637 Wyckoff Avenue, PMB 320, Wyckoff, NJ 07481.