Depreciating $$$ hurts charity
Nadine Wilson-Harris, Gleaner Writer
The charity group Food For The Poor failed to meet its target of building 1,200 houses for the destitute last year, and its executive director, David Mair, is pointing to the sharp depreciation in the value of the Jamaican dollar as one of the reasons for the failure.
According Mair, the organisation built 1,061 houses last year and, despite the challenges, is aiming to build 1,300 units in 2015 in a bid to meet the high demand for houses.
"With the sliding of the dollar, the impact on the construction material for our foundations increased on a monthly basis, so it's costing more to build a house, and that was not good for us because, as you know, our monies are donor given, so we have basically a set amount to build an X number of houses, and if money is not there, then we have a problem, so that's a big problem for us," said Mair.
The cost to construct one of the organisation's basic wooden structure ranges from US$6,500 to US$7,000, and material to build the foundation, such as cement and steel, are purchased locally.
"We try and increase the budget as much as we can, but as I said, it's donor given, we cannot really press people for money because it is being given freely," he insisted.
Added to the exchange rate, the executive director said the organisation was hit hard by the chikungunya virus which crippled the productive sector last year.
"A lot of the contractors lost many of their workers and it threw us out for quite some time. When the virus peaked, we lost about 30 per cent of our crew," said Mair.
The majority of the charity's beneficiaries are referred by the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, the Programme of Advancement through Health and Education, and the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme.
"The candidates for the houses are people who are living under severe conditions and so the demand is definitely there. There is no drop-off at all, and this is what we are focusing on," Mair said.
"I was down in St Thomas the other day to give this gentleman a home because he and his wife and his daughter were living under a bridge under a tarpaulin, and as a result of it we had to get him out of there quickly because it was during the rainy time," he shared.
The executive director said the weather is usually a factor that they have to grapple with each year, as heavy rainfall often makes it difficult to get into some rural communities.
"The places that we build in are usually off the track, and when I say off the track I mean that there are no main roads there, so we have to park the vehicles there and then get people to lift cement to carry it to the house location, foundations have to be put up, and then of course the superstructure, which are the wooden houses, goes on top of that."
Mair said the organisation is committed to assisting with the alleviation of poverty in the country and intends to do so through the continuation of its outreach efforts, which include building schools, distributing food to the needy and equipping health centres with medical resources.
In an effort to get more local donors to contribute to the organisation, the executive director said Food For The Poor intends to host an inaugural 5k walk/run in May of this year.
"We are trying to get rid of poverty, that's the bottom line," said Mair before adding, "It's a struggle, yes, but we have seen tremendous upward mobility. We are just really thankful to be in the position to do that and to work along with the Government to help them to alleviate it."