By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
SENIOR citizens and disabled persons in Grand Bahama lined up outside the Department of Social Services on Tuesday for several hours waiting to collect their monthly food coupons.
People were sitting on chairs, on the pavement, and some were standing along the building in very humid conditions from 9am to 1pm when it started to rain.
A concerned person contacted The Tribune expressing concern about the situation at Social Services.
When we arrived at the office on Settler’s Way around 1pm, we learned that persons had arrived as early as 7am for the registration process at 8am.
As the weather started to deteriorate, a social worker, escorted by two Defence Force Officers, emerged to inform those still waiting on the outside that there were no more coupons and that they should return later in the week to collect their coupon.
But after waiting five hours, many persons, some with crutches and walking sticks, refused to leave, and remained seated in the chairs set up under the eaves from the hot sun and rain.
The social worker said: “Now that everyone is here on this one day, we now need to ask you to understand that we are out of coupons because all of you came on this particular date. Please come back on Thursday you will not have to sit and wait, and you can go and collect your coupons and just walk right in.”
However, some persons said they could not return on Thursday due to transportation issue.
Carmeta Rolle, an elderly disabled woman, said she needed her coupon today. “I come here, and you don’t think they should write that coupon and give it to me as a senior citizen. I am a sick lady.”
Rose Bastian stressed that something must be done to improve the situation for senior citizens.
“I was here from nine this morning and it’s now 1pm, and I am still here. And now to hear we have to come back on Thursday because they don’t have no more checks, that is bad,” she said.
“The government needs to do something about it. I don’t think it is fair for us to sit here all day and then return on Thursday because they don’t have no more cheques. They need to do something,” Ms Bastian said.
When asked whether they had run out of coupons, a social worker who identified herself as Ms Brice explained that five days are allotted for distribution of food coupons to senior citizens and disabled persons.
She noted that many of them came on Tuesday – the second day of distribution. Ms Brice also indicated that weather conditions were a concern as well.
“We are here observing COVID restrictions and so those who have cars, I guess we will ask them to sit in their cars if they want to stay. We won’t turn them away, but we don’t want them to get wet,” she said.
When asked if there is a set limit of coupons that are distributed daily at Social Services, the social worker said that there is no set number of coupons.
“It is based on how many persons come, but with weather like this fluctuating and there are seniors and disabled persons, and the humidity as I said when I came out here. So, I don’t want them to feel like they have to be here today because it is Tuesday.
“We are here until Friday and even if (they) miss it this week for seniors and disabled, (they) can still come the following week for food coupons.
“Unfortunately, we have this (situation). We did it yesterday (Monday) and we had a fair amount, but again everybody came today,”
Ms Brice further stressed: “We want them to know that they have five days (set aside) specifically only for seniors and the disabled, so they can come at their leisure. And if they don’t make the first five days then they come following week when distributions are made to younger persons and we will give seniors preference.”
“We are mindful of our humanitarian service to our customers, and we want to make them as comfortable as possible even with the restrictions we are faced with the pandemic,” she explained.
Some people felt the situation is unacceptable and called for better organisation of the coupon distribution by the department.
“I came here yesterday, but the social worker informed me that the information was not here.
Ms Jones, who came on behalf her elderly mother, was upset. She said the situation is “poor and unacceptable” treatment of seniors and the disabled.
“These are senior citizens and some of them are disabled, some of them struggled to get here. You are supposed to be prepared.
“Some of these people are here every month, and you coming out here and saying ‘you don’t have enough coupons.‘ Some of these people been here from 8am and 9am. This is now 1pm, and you are coming to tell people that you don’t have enough coupons, which is a waste of time.
“Some of them can’t come back here on Thursday. It is a disgrace,” she said. “They are supposed to be organized. It is not acceptable, and this is poor treatment.”
Ms Jones said the department needs to plan on how senior citizens are served. “We were out in the sun all day for five hours for $86. It could be organised better. I don’t mind being here 20 minutes or even an hour, but five hours.”
Another woman agreed that better organisation is needed. “They are supposed to have more workers to assist the people. It is after 1pm and I have not been served yet. It is too long,” she said.