Community Responds to Needs of Newly-Arrived Migrant Families

August 21, 2023
Boxes and bags of clothing and toys were delivered to the Bedford Plaza Hotel to aid 26 migrant families. Staff photo by Mike Rosenberg 

Scores of volunteers are responding to meet some of the immediate needs of 26 migrant families who have been placed by the state in the Bedford Plaza Hotel as an emergency shelter.

Bedford resident Rabbi Susan Abramson led a team at the hotel on Monday afternoon, offloading and sorting scores of boxes and bags overflowing with clothing and toys. Abramson said they will be distributed to the new arrivals on Tuesday.

“I see this as an opportunity for people to jump in,” Abramson said. “There are a lot of people who are anxious to help – they’re seeing this on the news. People are now in our backyard, and we finally have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Most of the families are from Haiti, the rabbi said, and “I have no idea of the journey these people have taken to get here. Massachusetts has become a desirable location for Haitian refugees.”

Less than three weeks ago, Gov. Maura Healey declared a state of emergency in response to an influx of migrants. As part of the declaration, Healey said she is renewing a call to local organizations that can assist those seeking shelter.

Town of Bedford Health and Human Services Director Heidi Porter said there are a total of 95 people, almost half of them under age 18.

On Monday afternoon, Porter’s office issued a statement that read in part, “An interdepartmental working group including the Bedford Public Schools, Health and Human Services, Town Manager’s Office, Police, and Fire have been meeting regularly to coordinate emergency assistance and services to these families. The town is also coordinating with the state.”

State Rep. Kenneth Gordon said he has been “facilitating the communication between the administration and town officials to make sure these refugees and the town have the state support they need.

“We want people to know that Bedford is a welcoming community, willing to do its part to address this challenge with compassion,” Gordon said.

Select Board Chair Bopha Malone thanked town departments and the hotel, “not only for providing shelter but for working as a team to provide critical resources as these families embark on a new beginning.”

The scenario is especially poignant for Malone, who pointed out that she was nine years old when she arrived in the U.S. with her parents as refugees. 

“I remember how traumatic and difficult that experience was. It was the community’s kindness that helped us overcome our obstacles. I truly believe that kindness can bridge the widest divides and turn strangers into neighbors, and I’m proud that our town is a part of this humanitarian effort,” she said.

Gordon noted that among the new arrivals were “six pregnant women who hadn’t been seen.” He arranged for care through the MassHealth agency. He said there are microwaves in the hotel rooms, and the state has issued cards that allow the families to acquire food from retail outlets. Porter added that the new arrivals also “received a distribution from the Bedford Food Bank and our human services staff is helping to connect families to resources.”

Abramson, who is spiritual leader of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington, said that  Burlington, along with Billerica and Woburn, is also hosting migrant families. 

“Many organizations, houses of worship, and individuals have reached out to help, and coordination efforts are underway,” the statement by department heads read. Porter added, “We will be sharing multiple ways to help later this week, including residents’ time, donated goods, and monetary donations.”

Many residents are already involved. 

“I just jump into these things head first – I feel like a first responder,” Abramson said. “I’m getting a ton of help; I actually had to turn people away.”

She said she is collaborating with Porter “to work out logistics. So many people want to be so generous. It’s about managing that.” 

The Bedford Plaza, she said, provided a couple of rooms for sorting donations.

“There are infants and toddlers,” the rabbi said. “I brought in 10 cases of diapers and wipes and they were gone in 10 minutes. I brought in a huge box of stuffed animals; they were gone in two seconds.” 

She said she informally put the word out in her neighborhood about the need, and “in three days I had a garage full of clothes and toys.”

“This is a way for my particular community to do a mitzvah reflecting their values as Jews. The Jewish community feels empathy toward refugees,” Abramson remarked.

But she added that she is also coordinating an interfaith effort. For example, the Rev. Jamie Hinson-Rieger, senior minister at First Parish on the Common, issued a call for donations of baby, toddler, and children’s clothing, maternity dresses, and shoes for kids and adults.

“We are communicating using interpreters, and it is likely that one of the needs that the community can help with is interpretation services,” Porter said.

More details about responding to the needs are expected to be announced during the week. Abramson emphasized that residents should not just leave bags of clothing in front of the hotel.

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