By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE chairwoman of the National Food Distribution Task Force has defended the “heroic” efforts of various partner NGOs and their workers in the face of “shameful” social media attacks.
In a statement issued yesterday, Susan Larson noted that phase one of the emergency initiative ended on October 31 while phase two—which has a tightened focus on the “most vulnerable”— is underway.
The criteria for assistance in this regard includes unemployment with no or low benefits, chronic illnesses, infants and young children, elderly, housebound and those impacted by natural disasters (such as Hurricane Dorian).
Mrs Larson noted how sensitive an issue it is to determine someone’s vulnerability.
“The task force applied internationally recognised criteria to the process and used a weighting system to calculate vulnerability levels objectively,” she said. “But never once have we lost sight of basic humanitarian concerns. It is a truly terrible thing not to have enough food to feed your family. The sharpened focus enables us to continue to assist those whose level of food security has not returned to pre-COVID levels.”
She also said the task force is “immeasurably grateful” to the NGO workers and volunteers who have “devoted more than 26 weeks of non-stop effort to assisting the most vulnerable in our communities” adding that many of them work six and seven days a week.
“The depth of their commitment to this cause is inspiring. Their work has often been thankless. The nation owes them a huge debt of gratitude,” Mrs Larson said.
“It is shameful that certain people have used social media to attack the heroic efforts of our NGOs and their workers and volunteers at this time. The task force has worked tirelessly to ensure its efforts have been carried out transparently and equitably for all and every member of the task force is incredibly proud of what has been achieved.”
The statement was issued after a heated video was posted to Facebook, recorded by an irate man who alleged people were being turned away from getting food.
The two-minute-long cell phone video showed people waiting outside a food distribution centre while the man capturing the footage hurled profanities and claims at workers/volunteers inside. The man even claimed someone gave him the middle finger.
“See all these people here. I brought them from 601 (a former nightspot) looking for food. See all the food in here,” the individual said.
“See all the food but the woman say that Dr Minnis only giving the people who he want to give. He’s not giving food to everyone. All of these people got turned around this morning. See the food there. The food for the white people, it ain’t for the black people. See it right there, ladies and gentlemen,” the man claimed.
Under phase two of the food programme, zone leaders are still operating in each of their areas, helping thousands of people in need each week, the task force noted. Some distribution locations have been consolidated to make operations more efficient and in some zones distribution has been changed to every other week.
“Changing the frequency of distribution in some areas was done because of the extraordinary logistics in getting thousands of food parcels out every week and also to reduce risks associated with the pandemic,” said Mrs Larson. “Effectively, we’ve doubled up portions to help households get through two weeks, not one.”
Zone leaders have contacted the households that were transitioned into phase two. The task force appeals to everyone to allow its focus on the most vulnerable to proceed in an orderly and peaceful manner.
Phase two and the work of the task force generally will end on December 31.