By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government’s national food distribution programme will end next month, Minister of Social Services Frankie Campbell said yesterday.
He told reporters more than 50,000 families across the country have benefited since the initiative was launched to provide emergency food assistance for vulnerable Bahamians affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than $13 million has been injected in the programme to date.
The initiative had previously been extended, but yesterday Mr Campbell said it is drawing to an end, as officials hope the further reopening of the economy next month will reduce the need for widespread food assistance.
“The National Food Distribution Taskforce timeframe was to operate in the last week in May to the end of August…and as such, the government of The Bahamas has committed to the continued partnership to the end of October 2020,” he added.
“The process of feeding our fellow brothers and sisters remains a major priority for the government of The Bahamas. Therefore, we will advise that persons in need of food assistance can apply to the Department of Social Services as well as many other non-governmental organisations which provide food assistance to the most vulnerable.”
The food assistance programme began in early June to help families in need. The initiative was initially set to end in late August, but was later extended due to a high demand.
Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said last month that his administration was providing $1m to the task force each week to help people who need food during the COVID-19 crisis.
“To date, the government has provided funds in the amount of $13,225,34,” Mr Campbell said at his ministry’s press conference yesterday. “The National Food Distribution Taskforce has distributed food parcels and vouchers to approximately 55,078 households throughout the Bahamas up to September 12.
“The need for continued food assistance through the taskforce is still of paramount importance.”
In terms of assistance from the Department of Social Services, Mr Campbell said nearly 10,000 people have received food assistance from the government agency recently.
In Grand Bahama, he said 4,850 residents have benefitted from the department’s emergency food assistance programme, with costs totaling at $437,713.
However, in recent months, he said officials have seen a decline in requests for food assistance “as many of the department’s clients utilised the Feed Grand Bahama online initiative offered by the Bahamas government in response to the pandemic.”
Meanwhile, as it relates to other Family Islands, Mr Campbell said 5,286 residents on those islands had received food assistance from the Department of Social Services between the months of April and August.
The total cost, he said, amounted to $843,639.
During yesterday’s press conference, Mr Campbell also thanked the NGOs and those in the private sector for partnering with the government in the programme.
He also urged Bahamians to take the COVID-19 threat seriously and follow all the health protocols.
In doing so, the minister suggested that more restrictions could be further relaxed allowing the country to jumpstart its economy, which could then reduce the need for food assistance.
He made the remarks when asked what the government’s response would be if there was still a need for emergency food items in October when the programme comes to an end.
He said: “Truly it is my hope that the appeals that are being sent from various ministers, the prime minister in particular, in asking for persons to adhere to protocols and for persons to take the kind of personal responsibility to help us reduce the transmission and enable us to safely re-open the economy in particular the tourism sector that generates much of our funds that will reduce the need for persons to be seeking the food assistance.
“Food, shelter and clothing — I believe in that same order are man’s basic necessities and as a government we are obliged to do all we can to provide that for as many as we can for as long as we can.”