After a magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked her home country of Haiti Aug. 16, injuring and killing thousands, Chez Matou Owner Martine “Matou” Chery-Hilaire could do nothing else but try to help.
Haiti is her home country.
The region impacted by the earthquake is the one she grew up in, meaning she has a special connection to it.
“This is where I grew up — this is the region of Haiti where I grew up,” she said. “I was born in one region and was raised in a different one. I feel like I have a stronger connection with the place that I was raised, because that was where I went to school. I had many friends and family (there). So the south of Haiti where I grew up, I have a strong bond with them and for them to be effected in such a horrible way — I feel like it’s a moral obligation to step in and help.”
Every year around this time, she habitually sends donations to help children with school supplies as they prepare to return to classes. But this year, after the devastating earthquake, Chery-Hilaire realized she should do something else.
“I sell plates and whatever money that I make I take out however much I spent on groceries and send the rest to Haiti for back to school,” she said. “Unfortunately, because the earthquake happened around that time I have to re-shift my focus and instead of doing it for back to school, I’m doing it for the earthquake relief.”
For the remainder of the month, she will be donating the profits from sales made at her food truck — christened the Green Machine — at 820 S. Washington St. to Haiti in the hopes of providing relief for people in need in her home country.
She doesn’t know how much she’ll be able to send.
“I don’t really have a number in mind,” Chery-Hilaire said. “It’s just my typical operation. A couple thousand, maybe $1,500.”
Chery-Hilaire is not requesting donations from anyone or taking donations of supplies, because sending the small amounts of supplies she would likely be able to gather is too costly at this time.
Chery-Hilaire said she is in the process of setting up a nonprofit to help people in Haiti. If she is able to accomplish that, she said she would like to send actual shipments of supplies to Haiti.
“As soon as I get things established, that’s what I plan on doing,” she said. “Instead of sending money, sending supplies like tents and stuff.”
At the moment, however, this is beyond Chery-Hilaire’s reach.
She just plans to send the proceeds from her food truck business to Haiti.
However, if people do want to donate they can contact her by messaging Chez Matou www.facebook.com/authentichaitiancuisine.chezmatou through Facebook.
She will set people up with actual families in Haiti who are in need of assistance with food and shelter.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m furthering my own agenda, so if somebody wants to donate I have people I know that are in need,” Chery-Hilaire said. “They could send Western Union directly to the person in need rather than going through me.”
This most recent earthquake brought up a lot of old trauma for Chery-Hilaire.
She was in the Army, stationed at Fort Riley, when a similarly-destructive earthquake rolled through Haiti in 2010. Chery-Hilaire requested she be sent to help clean up the damage in her home country. A group of soldiers from Fort Riley was being sent to assist with the cleanup in Haiti and she wanted very much to be part of that group, where — as a fluent Haitian Creole speaker — she could have served as a translator.
Chery-Hilaire’s request was denied and she was sent to Iraq instead.
She spent much of her deployment in Iraq worried about the people of Haiti, wishing she could be in Haiti helping her people pick up the pieces.
“I went on deployment and I came back really sick from being majorly depressed,” she said. “I feel like I was not able to do anything to help my people when they needed it.”
Now, however, Chery-Hilaire hopes she can do something.
“In any way somebody could help, it would mean a lot to me and the people of Haiti,” she said. “Like I said, I’m not asking anybody to donate but if God puts it on your heart to make a donation — a kind gesture — that would be very appreciated. It’s very much needed and it will be very much appreciated.”