DONATIONS given previously by Rupert Roberts to the Feeding Network. Officials say the National Food Distribution Task Force is due to end in March, but 100,000 will still need food assistance then.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Feeding Network Executive Director Philip Smith fears some 100,000 people will still need food assistance after the National Food Distribution Task Force’s programme ends in March.
Officials have said they expect the current third phase to be the final stage of the food programme.
However, with so much economic uncertainty in the country, Mr Smith said he hopes the government will consider extending the programme at least until September.
Speaking to The Tribune yesterday, Mr Smith said the task force is now helping some 18,000 households, with an estimated 72,000 people receiving food packages or food vouchers.
The task force, which was established by the government last June, is tasked with delivering emergency food assistance to those most vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
Initially, the programme was to end on August 31 last year, but was extended several times to assist people still widely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Only those who have been verified and considered most vulnerable are eligible to receive the weekly assistance.
“The government has invested $36 million thus far,” Mr Smith said. “It was $16 million for phase one, ten (million) for phase two and an additional ten (million) for phase three which is supposed to take us until the end of March.
“So, the support has been great. In the final phase, we reduced our numbers by 60 percent or just over 60 percent from when we were feeding 55,000 families or 220,000 individuals (in the first phase).
“For phase three, that has been reduced to 18,000 families or 72,000 individuals. So going forward, we believed that number we reduced it to was probably less than it should’ve been.”
Even now, Mr Smith said there are many instances where those not included on the food distribution list have reached out to the organisation for food help.
“Some of the persons we took off the list should’ve probably still been on,” he added. “I was not involved in that process but definitely those on the list are the unemployed… but it is my belief that we would have not captured everyone when we came to that 18,000 so that would’ve been about 20 percent (from the initial number) that we’re now feeding.
“Because a lot of persons are still coming but they’re just not on our list… but we still do our best to assist and we have been able to assist quite a bit of them but it’s always a challenge. You know you have to eat to live and there are some people who are truly challenged.”
He also said the organizations that are a part of the task force are now preparing to launch advertising campaigns to get donations once the initiative ends.
“It is my estimation that there are one hundred to one hundred and twenty thousand persons who are still in need of food,” he said. “(When the programme ends), that is going to be quite complicated because that’s a pretty big number so I’m hoping that the government finds some way of extending their programme beyond March because when you talk about one hundred persons, that’s quite a bit of people.
“Bahamas Feeding Network is ramping up on marketing and we’re going to do our very best going forward. In Nassau, there will be three organisations that will remain in this and help with food support and that will be Hands For Hunger, Lend a Hand (Bahamas) and Bahamas Feeding Network so we’re in discussions now talking about what we can do to ramp up the marketing.
“I expect that to happen in two to three weeks.”