HOUMA — A Terrebonne oysterman and politician has banded with other local businessmen to help unemployed seafood workers.
Kevin Voisin, vice president of Motivatit Seafood and a Terrebonne Parish councilman, launched the Horizon Relief Corp. this week to collect donations for out-of-work laborers, such as deckhands, shrimp-factory workers, dock workers and oyster shuckers.
Any size donation is welcome, but those who give $1,000 or more will get a Bottle of Hope filled with oil-contaminated Gulf of Mexico water collected by cleanup workers.
“It's a work of art,” Voisin said of the “limited-edition” glass bottles. “There's a tragic beauty in the oil.”
The weeks-long oil leak off the coast of Venice at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion has closed a wide swatch of coastal waters to commercial fishermen, putting them and the men and women who process their catch out of work.
Some fishermen are finding work through BP's Vessels of Opportunity program, which pays crews and boat owners to deploy boom and do other cleanup work off the coast. But that program has been criticized for hiring too few local fishermen.
Voisin said conventional assistance programs fail to meet the workers' needs.
The aid that BP has promised to replace lost wages takes weeks to arrive, and some workers' are denied money because they lack the “incessant paperwork” needed, he said.
Factory and boat owners are more likely to have the required documents, he said, so the corporation he is starting will not target management-level positions.
The corporation aims to help workers who need it the most. Recipients will be recommended by employers.
The goal is to raise $1 million in two weeks and give it away within the third week, he said. There will be no application process, said Voisin, the corporation's director.
The idea for Horizon Relief started in Voisin's family-owned oyster plant in Houma, which has been directly affected by the oil leak. The plant, normally busy this time of year, has no product to process.
“I sat in the plant in silence and thought about the 200 or more families that relied on this place to put groceries on the table,” Voisin said. “These aren't employees. They're lifelong friends and family. I couldn't just sit and wait anymore.”
Horizon Relief's board of directors is made up of Mike Voisin, Kevin's father and president of Motivatit Seafood, Stephen Hassell, project coordinator at Hassell Wealth Management, and Joe Klaus, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Handy International, a New England-based seafood company.
Hassell said he got involved because it is a way to help those who need it most. This effort eliminates the bureaucracy that often slows the aid process to a crawl, he said.
It's also set up so Horizon Relief will seek out workers, instead of forcing them to sign up for help, he said.
It is “a great opportunity to help a group of people who, through no fault of their own, are at a great disadvantage,” Hassell said. “By
reaching out to people with strong connections in the seafood industry we feel we can have a greater impact.”
To donate and learn more about Horizon Relief, visit www.horizonrelief.org.