Social workers from the town’s Health and Human Services Department are meeting with refugees at the Bedford Plaza Hotel to connect them to resources they need.
“We have regular office hours at the hotel,” said Director Heidi Porter on Wednesday. She added that she hopes to be able to provide details on Thursday on how residents can get involved. “We are meeting with our community partners; they are a critical part of this.”
Town officials and volunteers are responding to the unexpected arrival of migrants, who are being placed by state agencies in available hotel and motel rooms throughout the region. State law requires state and local government to provide shelter for families with children.
Porter said Monday that there are 95 people, of whom 45 are younger than 18. Rabbi Susan Abramson, who has been a leader of the town’s grass-roots response, said most of the children appear to be babies and toddlers.
Porter noted that the Bedford Public Schools are required by law to enroll all school-age children “and provide them and their families with appropriate English learner and other support to begin the school year successfully.”
Details are expected to be discussed at the Bedford School Committee meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29.
Migrant families gathered in a hotel function room on Tuesday morning and accepted hundreds of clothing items and toys donated by the Bedford community.
“It was wonderful,” reported Abramson. “People had huge smiles on their faces. There were kids sitting in little groups on the floor playing with toys. They were so excited – everyone seemed very grateful and happy.”
She said “Compared to what they came from, this must be so much better on so many levels in a safe and supportive community.”
“Every family was able to participate and receive some donated goods,” said Porter, who coordinated the process. She was assisted by Noah Southard, a graduate student working in the health office, and volunteers, including several from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Those volunteers “are already credentialed by us,” Porter said, and some have also been driving pregnant women to medical appointments. “They have been super helpful,” Porter said, adding that residents interested in joining the team should contact her office.
Most of the refugees are from Haiti. Although there is a language barrier, “there wasn’t a big need for a lot of communication. It was a nonverbal kind of event,” Abramson observed. “I was having very simple conversations with people in French. I saw one woman trying to practice simple English words using some sort of tablet.”
There were items of clothing left over, the rabbi noted, and she donated them to area charities.
Porter said part of the upcoming announcement will detail donation of gift cards to local stores so the refugees “can have agency to shop on their own.”