As COVID-19 continues to devastate the Caribbean’s health systems and economy, supporting the charities serving the region proves more important than ever. Taking advantage of decades of experience in the Caribbean, South Florida-based non-profit Food for the Poor has pivoted their efforts to combat this new pandemic, from sourcing medical supplies to targeting food insecurity in vulnerable communities. With this in mind, we spoke to Food for the Poor advocate Michael Turnbell about the current COVID-19 challenges in the region, and what the Diaspora can do to help.
Describe Food for the Poor’s overall mission in a few words:
For more than 38 years, Food For The Poor has served the poorest of the poor internationally in the Caribbean and Latin America. But it also has provided relief in response to catastrophic disasters in the United States, including Hurricane Katrina and 9/11 in New York. This year, the charity has donated protective equipment to first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis as well as basic relief supplies to churches in South Florida.
How have you shifted your initiatives to target COVID-19 issues in the Caribbean?
Food For The Poor is taking a two-pronged approach to make sure countries have a reliable food supply by sending additional food beyond what is normally sent, and purchasing additional food from producers in the countries. The charity also is working with partners in new ways to help destitute families.
In Jamaica, Food For The Poor has purchased Vienna sausages from GraceKennedy Limited, which ordinarily would be packaging food for hotels and resorts that are now closed because of the coronavirus. Staff at Food For The Poor-Jamaica recently packed those sausages in more than 800 bags along with rice, beans, cornmeal and MannaPack rice meals. Meanwhile, four big organizations in Jamaica have formed a trust, and Food For The Poor is working with them to provide critical care monitors. In all, 50 monitors will be provided.
In Haiti, Food For The Poor is sending an additional 40 containers of rice to fill the gap until the first shipment of rice from the Republic of China (Taiwan) arrives in early June. The charity also is sending 11 containers of beans in May and 10 more in June to bolster its food relief.
In Venezuela, MannaPack meals were distributed to families by Food For The Poor partner Fundacion Lala. It was the first time Food For The Poor has provided aid in the country.
Where are your COVID-19 missions currently operating?
Food For The Poor is providing aid and COVID-19 relief to all of the countries we serve in the Caribbean and Latin America. Unlike in the United States, where the government and local agencies are able to help those in need, the destitute in the Caribbean and Latin America are often on their own. Imagine being poor, sick, and having nowhere to go for help.
Why is targeting COVID-19 so important now in the region?
People in the countries served by Food For The Poor are doing the same thing we are in the United States. They are sheltering at home. People have lost jobs. People are not working. Our partners in the countries have told us food is their number one priority. The poor are vulnerable on a good day. The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the problems they face every day, from the fragility of the healthcare services to the sheer volume of people who are desperate for food and help.
What does the region need most of now?
Food supplies are dwindling fast. Food For The Poor is taking immediate steps to ensure the poor in the countries it serves have a reliable food supply in the months ahead, as they fight both the coronavirus and growing food shortages. The charity is purchasing and shipping 52 containers of rice, beans and sausages while exploring opportunities to buy additional food from producers in the countries. Since mid-March, Food For The Poor has shipped 114 tractor-trailer loads of aid, including medical supplies, personal hygiene items and cleaning supplies.
How can people support/participate?
You can provide a cash donation that helps Food For The Poor cover the cost of purchasing and shipping critically needed food and basic supplies through our dedicated COVID-19 portal.