TAMPA — One woman brought plantains. Another donated rice. Someone took up a collection and bought a 10-pound chicken. They met in the low block building behind First Haitian Church of the Nazarene and spread their groceries on the counter. They had enough food to feed 15. They didn't know who would eat their meals. They said it didn't matter. They had heard that 45 Haitians — people from their homeland — had been brought to area hospitals after the earthquake. They had heard they were hungry.
"Haitians do not really like American food," Mary Mesidor, 55, said Tuesday as she put her plantains in a pot to boil. Mesidor grew up in Haiti, moved to the United States 19 years ago. Like the other volunteers, she belongs to the church.
She had heard the Haitian patients weren't eating the hospital food. That they were getting weaker.
"Most of them had never left Haiti," said Sania Grandchamp, who helped raise money for the meals. "They didn't recognize the hospital food."
So, in the modest kitchen of that church fellowship hall, these women set out to cook up a taste of home.
It's a small effort, patched together by Haitian broadcasters and businessmen, but to the hurt kids and their families, it helps.
• • •
Mesidor added a splash of vinegar to the plantain pot. Pocelene Lamandier — Popo — came in to help, tied on a head scarf. The two women pulled the bird apart and scraped off the skin.
Lamandier, 55, lived most of her life in Haiti and still has two sons there. "Thank God, yes," they're okay.
She and Mesidor think of the hospital patients as their children. Those poor people — they had heard there were burned babies — could be their kids.
So when they found out about the food drive, they volunteered to cook. They didn't bring recipes or measuring cups. Didn't need them. Just bring us the groceries, they said.
• • •
Joel Lespinasse, 46, is a disc jockey at Mango Radio (mymangoradio.com), an online Caribbean station based in Tampa. A native of Haiti, he moved to the United States when he was 6. He lost three cousins and a 6-year-old niece in the earthquake.
Last week, when he found out Haitians were being flown into Tampa hospitals, he started calling other Haitian-Americans. They formed the Tampa Bay for Haiti Coalition (tampabay forhaiti.org) and collected a truckload of food.
Every day, Lespinasse said, he stops by Haitian taxi stands and barbershops, reaches out to Haitian lawyers and doctors, and collects enough donations to feed the hospital patients and their family members, most of whom are staying in budget hotels.
"There is no way for them to cook for themselves," Lespinasse said. "No way for them to get food their children will eat."
Six women offered to fix dinners in their homes. Family Cuisine restaurant donated takeout meals. And three times, parishioners have cooked at the church.
• • •
Mary Mesidor chopped hot peppers. Popo Lamandier sliced tomatoes. On the back burner, chunks of chicken sizzled in oil.
"That smell alone will be a comfort," the pastor said, bending over the stove.
The Rev. Sandra Jeannot, 44, moved from Haiti to Florida when she was 21. Five years ago, she became pastor at the little church, which has 70 members.
She hasn't met any of the Haitian patients. But she translated for some over the phone. Several had been burned. After the earthquake, they had been sleeping in the streets, lighting fires to cook on and ward off the bugs. Some of the fires had gotten out of control.
Other Haitians in local hospitals had lost arms and legs; they had broken backs and crushed hands and … every injury imaginable.
They had all been so grateful, Sania said, to get familiar food.
• • •
At 7 p.m., the rice was ready. The women had been cooking for three hours.
Mesidor spread Styrofoam containers across the counter, loaded rice and plantains into each tray. Lamandier added salad and three pieces of chicken. Lespinasse promised to deliver the meals to Tampa General.
"I sure hope that makes them feel better," Mesidor said as she started doing dishes.
"At least, maybe, it will make them feel not so far from home."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lane DeGregory can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8825.