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Groups gather donations to help hurricane victims in Haiti

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PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) — A local Haitian organization collected clothing, shoes, food and funds at a donation drive at the Church of God in Providence on Saturday.

“We’re happy we’ve been receiving a lot of stuff,” said Bernard Georges with New Bridges for Haitian Success, a local organization run out of Providence. The group plans to ship the items to Haiti and also travel there to help distribute donations to the right people.

Congressman Jim Langevin and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza were among those who attended the fundraiser.

Hurricane Matthew devastated the country when it hit on October 4, killing hundreds and leaving thousands with shelter, food or water.

“People are dying, suffering, they lost their homes,” Georges said. “Some places, people are still unable to located loved ones.”

New Bridges for Haitian Success teamed up with Dominican group Caritas Smile in Providence on Friday night to kick off fundraising efforts.

“Haiti, as you know, shares the same island as Dominican Republic. So when Matthew happened, our communities in the Dominican Republic were completely devastated,” said Sixcia Devine, the founder of Caritas Smile.

Haiti was still recovering from the 2010 earthquake when the hurricane hit, leaving an impoverished country in even worse shape than before.

“They’re still trying to recover from 2010, so when this tragedy happened there was nothing to do except to act,” Devine said.

Georges didn’t have an exact count of how many donations the group collected on Saturday, but said they are still in need of more donations including nonperishable food items like rice and beans. People can continue to drop off donations at 603 Elmwood Avenue or 608 Branch Avenue, or donate money online.

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Elorza returns from SXSW, where he pitched Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has returned home from a trip to Austin, Texas, where he joined other mayors in talking to entrepreneurs and pitching their cities as favorable locations for tech companies and start-ups.

South by Southwest, commonly written as SXSW, is a combination of music concerts, trade shows and conferences where artists, entrepreneurs and the public converge each year in Austin. This year, President Obama attended, along with mayors from a number of U.S. cities – including Elorza.

“I want Providence to be at the table,” Elorza said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Monday. “You know, mayors are at the center of innovation throughout the country and it’s amazing the conversations that we had with tech entrepreneurs about what they’re looking for in the city and the kinds of projects they are developing.”

While in Austin, Elorza gave an interview to The Guardian, where he said he hopes to infuse the former I-195 re-development project with start-ups.

“I came back with a lot of great ideas, a lot of great context,” Elorza said upon his return. “We’re going to make sure we have this same thriving tech economy here in Providence as they have in Austin.”

Mayor Elorza’s trip was paid for by the Providence Tourism Fund, a non-profit controlled by the city. He’s previously said one of the goals of out-of-state travel is to boost Providence’s economy by convincing companies to do business in the city.

Elorza said he got several companies at SXSW interested in Providence, but didn’t divulge which.

“There’s at least one education organization that we’re looking to attract,” Elorza said. “But there’s also a number – and this is very interesting – there are also a number of mobility and housing companies that are interested in coming to other cities and certainly to Providence.”

Last month, a WPRI.com review of the Elorza administration’s travel records showed either the Mayor or his staffers took 31 official business trips out-of-state in 2015.

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Providence launching 3-1-1 hotline, mobile app

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — City leaders announced a new hotline and mobile app they said would make it easier for residents to reach out for city services.

Mayor Jorge Elorza , flanked by other city officials, rolled out the 3-1-1 hotline and PVD311 mobile app Tuesday during an event at city hall.

“The 3-1-1 line and PVD311 mobile app are results of our efforts to make local government more open, accountable, and responsive. Whether you need to report a pothole or request trash pickup, I encourage residents to utilize these new tools,” Elorza said.

Residents can call 3-1-1 and speak with someone on the phone. The PVD311 app – which replaces ProvConnex – is said to offer a simple user-friendly interface and access to a range of city and state services. The mayor’s office said residents will be able to create a personal profile, submit a variety of service requests, pay bills, view the latest in city schedules and news, and receive updates directly on their mobile device.

As for the old app, Elorza said it wasn’t user-friendly enough.

“It was only in one language. But really it was very clunky. So Functionally, when you pressed the buttons, it didn’t always work. It was very confusing,” Elorza said. “What we did with this app, it’s much more intuitive. We’re looking at it from the perspective of a user.”

Elorza’s office said the contract with the company that made the old app expired. After putting out a bid for a new one, the city selected the company “Public Stuff” to develop PVD311.

Elorza said the new app will cost the same as the old one, but will hopefully work better.

“The idea is to make it as streamlined and as simple from the user’s perspective. So all they know is that the issue is getting addressed. We’ll handle all the hard work of actually getting it done,” Elorza said.

So what are the most reported complaints?

The mayor said in winter, it’s snow removal. In the spring, it’s potholes.