By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
MORE than 700 food vouchers were provided to five local entities in Freeport through the national food distribution programme launched on Friday in Grand Bahama.
State Minister for Grand Bahama Senator Kwasi Thompson announced that some 735 vouchers were distributed. The Salvation Army and Reach Out Ministries each received 225 vouchers; the Red Cross, 102; Calvary Temple Assembly of God,133; and Jubilee Cathedral, 50.
The vouchers, he said, are redeemable at Sawyer’s Fresh Mart, AML /Solomon’s, and Express Food Mart.
Mr Thompson said that the programme – which is jointly funded by the government and the private sector – received its first tranche of pledge assistance from three private entities – Buckeye Bahamas, the Grand Bahama Port Authority, and Direct Relief.
“Today we are beginning the process of distributing vouchers in accordance with the national food distribution progrmame,” he said at the Office of the Prime Minister. “This really is evidence of the government’s commitment to ensure that no resident, no Bahamian, no citizen, and no person who resides in our country goes hungry.”
Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell was also present and spoke briefly.
A steering committee for the programme has been formed in Grand Bahama, with representatives from key stakeholders, including deputy director of social services Lillian Quant-Forbes, Grand Bahama Port Authority president Ian Rolle, Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce president Greg Laroda, and Robert Lockhart, president of the Grand Bahama Christian Council. Ellison Delva, of Cates & Co, will ensure due diligence for the funding to ensure transparency and accountability.
After Hurricane Dorian and COVID-19, Mr Thompson said the Prime Minister indicated food distribution would be a national priority.
Mr Thompson said they will be creating a database in Grand Bahama of those non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are assisting and persons who need assistance through the establishment of a website next week at www.feedgrandbahama.com.
Social Services Minister Frankie Campbell thanked the NGOs and those in the private sector for partnering with the government in the programme.
He indicated the government is committed to the programme for at least three months, after which they will evaluate it.
“No government can do it alone and partnerships are important to us,” he said. “I invite others to consider partnering with us in this very worthy exercise; this is addressing the basic need of our people – food.”
Although the government is funding 85 percent of the programme, Mr Campbell noted that it was important to ensure that politics is not involved in the initiative, thus the appointment of a National Taskforce, headed by Susan Larson.
The National Food Taskforce Committee, he said, is divided in The Bahamas into nine zones –five in New Providence, one in Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Abaco, and northern Family Islands, and the Southern Family Islands.
“Many questioned why not having it run by a minister or a ministry, the reality is we are a polarized people; we are politically polarized whether we want to admit it or not and the PM wanted to ensure that there was no indication at all that there was any politics involved,” he explained.
Ian Rolle, president of Grand Bahama Port Authority, said: “I… thank the government as the visionary administration behind this fantastic feeding initiative. We at the GBPA are also excited to participate in this with other organisations. There is nothing more fulfilling than giving and making a difference in the lives of so many people. We at the GBPA have made it our mission to better the lives of the GB community.”
Chamber president Greg Laroda said the initiative comes at a very critical point as Grand Bahama is recovering from Dorian and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We consider it a privilege to join with the government and other stakeholders in this initiative. We don’t know how long it will last and so reaching out and being able to assist persons in need on the island with the provision of some help in terms of them being able to feed their families is very critical, and what I would like to make a plea to other persons in the community, especially corporate citizens, to join with us and the government, and assist in providing funds to continue this programme for as long as it is required on GB. We must always be committed to being our brother’s keeper in time of need,” he said.
GBCC president Robert Lockhart said they have identified about 16 churches on the island that will be used as channels of distribution of food vouchers and food supplies through this effort.
“We have identified four churches on west Grand Bahama; three in east GB, and another seven to eight in central GB to cover the Freeport area. On GB, we have 160 churches and the goal is that if we have churches that will cover certain areas that they will partner with other churches in their communities,” he said.