Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Cash crunch hits charities - Many to scale back on Christmas cheer

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Six-year-old Jaheem Robinson, seems to be enjoying this huge Christmas tree in the St William Grant Park, downtown Kingston, in 2014.
Paulette Wheeler (left) and Joan Clarke from the Ebenezer Home for mentally challenged and homeless persons.
Desmond Whitely of the Sunbeam Children's Home.
Gwendolyn Howell of Widow's Mite.
David McKenzie of Strathmore Gardens Place of Safety .
Gloria Viera of West Haven.
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8

The challenging economic condition, which has blanketed the island for a number of years, is taking a toll on some charities, which will be unable to reach out to the less fortunate the way they usually do this Christmas.

Desmond Whitely, manager of the Sunbeam Children's Home, which currently houses 40 male wards of the state aged six to 18, said the economic downturn has resulted in less funds coming the way of charities.

"When corporate Jamaica does well, invariably, they will give us more," said Whitely.

"There has been a significant downturn in the Jamaican economy over the last 10 years, and this has affected the ability of companies to contribute to charities.

"Within the last three years, charities have really struggled. Social services in the country, generally, have really struggled. ... When the economy goes down, more people are in need, so a place like Sunbeam will see a lot more children coming into state care," added Whitely.

'EXTREMELY DIFFICULT'

Paulette Wheeler, operations manager at the Ebenezer Home, which is a halfway house for the mentally challenged and homeless in Mandeville and its environs, said things have been particularly challenging for her institution because of the stigma attached to the persons it caters to.

"Because we support the mentally challenged, there is such a stigma that organisations don't like to donate to our charity. They prefer to support the children's homes," said Wheeler. "So, for us, it has been extremely difficult."

The home, which has 18 residents, but assists numerous other mentally challenged persons with a shower, change of clothing, and meals, had a mere three months' worth of funds remaining until Singer stepped in last week to give it $300,000.

It was among 16 charities to benefit from a combined sum of $5 million from the furniture and appliance store.

"What has happened with us is that because the year has been so difficult for us financially, we had enough funds to keep us going until the end of March," said Wheeler. "We will be putting on some fundraisers, and we are hoping that corporate Jamaica will come on board, because there really isn't a facility for the mentally challenged like ours outside of Bellevue or the [other] hospitals."

The biggest challenge facing Strathmore Gardens Place of Safety is finding the funds needed daily to send 15 of its 44 wards to high school.

BIG CHALLENGE

"It is a big challenge, with the children going to public school - having to give them bus fare and lunch money every day," manager at the facility, David McKenzie, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We get a subvention from the Government, which satisfies around 30 to 40 per cent of the budget, and we don't usually fill the remaining gap, so things usually get left off. The fact that Singer has come on board, giving us this sizeable amount of money, will go towards some infrastructural work that is well needed."

Gloria Viera - founder and administrator of West Haven, a home to 99 severely mentally and physically challenged wards of the state, located in Ramble, Hanover - is in the process of putting together another set of letters to send to various companies soliciting donations.

"I get assistance for the children through the Child Development Agency, but it is woefully inadequate," said Viera. "What I have tried doing this year is to send out letters to different companies to be donors, but it has not at all been successful.

"So we are formulating some other letters, which we plan to send out to different companies when they are making their budgets, and maybe they will include it."

HIGH MONTHLY EXPENSES

Viera said the home, which cares for wards of the state aged 6 to 13, received $1 million earlier this year, but that quickly whittled away, with diapers and grocery bills reaching in excess of $300,000 monthly.

This year, however, has been a good one for Widow's Mite, which is home to 12 girls and eight boys with various disabilities in St Ann. The home has found a friend in Grace International Ministries (GIM), which came on board last year.

"They (GIM) continued their support in October of this year and changed out all of our windows to sliding windows, and they meshed them and they bought us a refrigerator and a washing machine," said Gwendolyn Howell, head of the home.

On the other hand, Howell highlighted that due to the remote location of the home, there is no Internet service, and whenever there is a lull in rainfall, Kaiser Bauxite has to come to its aid by trucking water as there is no piped water.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com