By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
BENIA Dean has started a sidewalk soup kitchen that feeds hundreds of people on Grand Bahama every week, and now she is partnering with two local food stores to have collection bins placed at their establishments.
The Grand Bahama Soup Kitchen feeds on average 200 people on the sidewalk at the West Mall Shopping Plaza in downtown Freeport, according to Ms Dean, the programme’s coordinator.
The goal is to secure a physical space for a community centre and food pantry to sustain the soup kitchen.
“Right now, we are gearing up to get our physical location; we have identified a spot at the West Mall and are launching a food drive in partnership with Express Food Mart and Sawyer’s Fresh Market,” said Ms Dean.
She stated that collection bins would be at the stores so that customers can donate purchased food items to the soup kitchen to help build up their pantry.
“We are very appreciative to the operators of Express Food Mart and Sawyer’s Fresh Market for allowing us to do this. It is about Grand Bahamians and businesses coming together to help the less fortunate in a tangible way,” she said.
Ms Dean noted that many persons are affected by the economic downturn in Grand Bahama.
“I think there was a need before the economic downturn, but it is more visible now,” she said. “Grand Bahamians have a lot of pride, and if someone is in need you may not know, but the economy has brought this problem to the forefront, and I think that people are willing to ask for assistance, and many have been coming out to receive assistance.
“We feed on average 200 people. We give tickets to Social Services for their clients, and we don’ t turn anyone away who asks for something to eat.
“We are seeing mothers with children, and especially elderly people. But, the biggest issue we are having is being able to identify working persons who are in need because they are least likely to come out. We are trying to put together a programme to anonymously give to those persons and help them,” she explained.
Helping people is nothing new for Ms Dean, who does a lot of community outreach with her church. A couple of years ago, she started a children’s cooking camp at the YMCA and donated the proceeds to the Grand Bahama Children’s Home.
She said that the soup kitchen initially started as a church event.
“I got volunteers, and through dialogue with Social Services, I realised that there is a huge gap in what needs to be done and what was being done and that is why I started to do this,” she said.