By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
As it stands we can safely say The Bahamas is in a crisis and needs an ‘all hands on deck’ call out to all of its Good Samaritans. Sally Van Tooren has heard that call and has decided that no one in the capital will go hungry under her watch.
Her foundation, “Family Help & Support Foundation Limited”, a non-profit organisation not associated with any political party, has delivered 100 parcels of food each Saturday to some of the most deprived and needy people living in the inner city of New Providence since April 20.
Sally arrived in The Bahamas with her parents when she was a five-year-old child. They took up residence in western New Providence and she was destined to make a difference in the lives of others. She has been married to Dr Richard Van Tooren, for the past 33 years. Dr Van Tooren had a sterling career working at the Princess Margaret Hospital. He is now retired and running a private practice in Sandy Port. They have two sons currently living in London with their families having blessed the Van Toorens with five grandchildren.
“I’ve always tried to help Bahamians in one way or the other,” said Sally. “It’s usually anonymously, to be honest. My foundation was born five years ago, by myself and a friend of mine, Andrew. I asked him to be a director. We started a company, really at the time to help Dr David Allen, who has been a friend for a very long time. He had the “Family Helping People” which was helping people, mentally and psychologically, who had been damaged through their upbringing from all areas of New Providence.
“The Templeton Foundation was paying for the group meetings but he needed help with office personnel help. So we started the company and we helped him with that and then we had a basketball camp and we had various other events for him. Then Dorian happened, unfortunately, so we then used some funds to help with Dorian as far as medicine and accommodations for people and then after Dorian the pandemic happened.”
When the world was put on notice that it was under a threat called COVID-19, Sally decided to take up the mantle and help those who could not help themselves. She put her shoulder to the wheel, called upon her friends and hit the ground bringing aid to those in genuine need.
“I am great friends with Tony and Nathalie Appleyard who own Wild Flowers and due to the pandemic their business obviously had to close,” she explained.
“I got together with them and they have very kindly lent me, since the beginning of April, their trucks, to deliver the food. I still had a problem coordinating the whole thing, so they said someone who works with us who is our organizer, Kassimo Ellis, can help you with this. I met Kassie and it’s been a great team. Cassie and I get together, we find areas. We’ve been to 14 different areas in Nassau so far.
“We go on a Tuesday from house to house. We find out whether they are in need by asking questions. Nobody can work in the house. Nobody can be getting NIB. So they are all desperately needy. We worked out a plan for them to get non-perishable food, because they mostly don’t have an electricity or any fridges or any way of keeping this food from spoiling. We give them $65 worth of food which we obviously buy in bulk. We give two big bags of food and a case of water which we have worked out to sustain a family of four for ten days.”
After sussing out the inner city areas to find those in true need, Sally gets her team together and they deliver the food each Saturday. So far they have fed over 4,000 people.
“I go back with our team on Saturdays,” she continued. “It’s a team of ten people from Wild Flowers. They have all been laid off so I’ve hired them for a day and a half. They pack up all the food on a Friday, and then on Saturday mornings we go to the area we have chosen and we already have their names. We knock on the door and when they come to the door we back off to keep our six feet distance with our masks and gloves on. We then deliver the food to them, wave at them, then we find out if they have masks.
“If they have them we request that they put them on. If they have no masks, then I give out masks which I personally buy from Bahamas Hand Print at a very nice company price. So we make sure that everybody has masks and then I give them a little talk about health and wearing masks. And, then we go on our way. We’ve done this every Saturday morning since April and we hope to continue to do it until Nassau gets back on its feet. We feed 100 families which really translates into about 220 to 250 people. Sometimes when we get there more children come out of the houses. We must have fed over about 4,000 people.”
Since June of this year, the Government of The Bahamas has established a Feeding Network to take on the providing food for families directly affected by COVID-19 by way of furlough or unemployment. Asked about this organisation as it compares with hers, Sally indicated that the lines for food or food vouchers are unsafe.
“I am completely horrified and I know they can’t do what we are doing because their numbers are so much larger,” she said. “It’s that these huge groups of people are going to pick up their vouchers. I mean it’s good they are getting vouchers, it’s good they’re getting something for food, but it’s a fact that these huge numbers are all mashed together which is not good. In our travels, we see more and more of them receiving from the food network with no masks and they’re all standing grouped together with no social distancing.
“We stop and we ask how long they have been waiting and they say three to four hours and then of course after getting their vouchers they then have to go to the supermarket so that’s a double whammy. And, I know that they can’t possibly do much better because they are feeding many, many thousands of people and we are only feeding 100 families a week when they are doing their feeding on a daily basis. The spread of people all lingering around for hours on end without masks is obviously a problem. So we try to be as strict as we can.”
Sally’s Foundation has friends who also provide treats for the indigents in addition to the food and water being supplied on a regular basis.
“We also have this wonderful group of ladies, some are from the inner circle and some are friends of mine and every week they all bake or they collect clothes, shoes, colouring books and toys,” she said. “So we pick them up on a Friday and they’re all donated gifts and we get all those extras to give to people when we go out on Saturdays. They have been really amazing as every single week they give us quite a quantity of extras. They have been very loyal and have not stopped giving us stuff.
“The funds are all from private people like personal friends of mine or friends of friends. We have not gotten one penny from government. We are always looking for it though. I don’t like asking people for money, but sometimes it is necessary. I have no office expenses whatsoever. The purchases of masks and paying of the Wild Flower staff comes out of my own pocket. The Wild Flower trucks and gas for them are lone to me. Every penny that we raise, literally goes towards buying food and water.”
Good Samaritan Sally finds feeding the poor very fulfilling and has no regrets about pulling up her sleeves, going in to the impoverished communities and doing her part.
“I think it’s very fulfilling,” she said. “Because I’ve lived here all of my life, I feel very much a part of The Bahamas. These are just people who are in trouble and I feel desperately sorry. It’s fulfilling for all of us, actually. The entire Wild Flower team and myself. Some of the places we go to just makes you want to cry and some of us do. The elderly, the disabled, the children; some people who have absolutely no hope and no idea when they are going to get a job again or where they are going to get their next meal or where they will get money to pay rent. They have nothing! No water, no electricity.”
Sally said she is in it for the long haul and will continue to feed the poor, of New Providence, until the harsh realities of COVID-19 are no more.