Thu | Sep 29, 2022

Hunger Payne - Residents of depressed community beg for care packages amid scuffles as volunteers reach out to vulnerable

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2020 | 12:23 AMCorey Robinson - Senior Staff Reporter
Residents of Payne Land in St Andrew gather outside the gates of Haile Selassie High School last Saturday, hoping to get one of several care packages distributed to vulnerable citizens as part of a PSOJ-led initiative.
Residents of Payne Land in St Andrew gather outside the gates of Haile Selassie High School last Saturday, hoping to get one of several care packages distributed to vulnerable citizens as part of a PSOJ-led initiative.

They came out by the dozens – mostly women, pushing, shouting and pleading with passing volunteers to spare a care package – even though none of the bags with groceries was intended for them. At times, their pleas led to squabbles as their discomfort grew under the broiling heat of the morning sun.

For the residents of Payne Land, a tough inner-city community in St Andrew, however, departing the gates of the Haile Selassie High School empty-handed was not an option two Saturdays ago. Failure, in many cases, meant hungry stomachs for nights to come.

“We need one a di bag dem, sir! Please!” begged one middle-aged woman with arms outstretched. “Is me alone and me nuh have nothing ‘round a yard. Beg yuh one deh.”

“Is ‘round here we come from. Is our community,” shouted another, reaching for whatever credentials she could find in her purse as proof.

Quickly, her efforts were dashed as an exhausted security guard edged the chain-link gate forward, sparking another pushing frenzy amid the gathering.

In this environment, survival seemed to trump social distancing; and mask-wearing in the face of COVID-19 appeared an afterthought. The experience was particularly different for the volunteers.

The care packages – tote bags containing parcels of rice, flour, canned food and other goodies – are part of a sustained COVID-19 relief effort being undertaken by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica in partnership with other private, public and civil society entities.

Relief Programme

Essentially, the COVID-19 relief programme aims at helping vulnerable residents of Jamaica’s 25 toughest communities based on information provided by the Mona Geoinformatics Institute. These communities and recipients are identified based on crime, poverty, unemployment, health, and comorbidity with COVID-19 and age.

The residents are provided these packages, which can last up to two weeks, every two weeks with four to six deliveries per community. Additionally, free healthcare was provided by The Diabetes Association of Jamaica at the school, while volunteers delivered packages to immobile residents in the community.

More than $189 million in cash and kind has been raised thus far, the majority coming from overseas donors. At least 47,779 packages have been delivered in 47 communities. More than 700 packages are delivered on each community visit.

“When you look at the impact of COVID, especially when we are saying people, especially those who are at risk, should stay in place, ... if you are staying in place, but you are hungry, you are probably going to go to seek food,” said Kalando Wilmoth, chair of the project’s marketing team.

“Some of the people in these spaces might be unemployed because of COVID, but many have historical unemployment ... when they could usually go and hustle and find food tonight. When everything is shut down there is no hustle,” he continued.

Volunteers braved more than the hot sun last Saturday, as they filed through the growing crowd at the entrance of the school gate, clutching masks to their faces en route to the most vulnerable in the community.

By this time, the lone security guard and others had informed many stomping the gate that they were not eligible, but they persisted, hopeful that there might be leftover packages at the end.

Metres away, Desrine Lyttle-Walcott, 87, and Rosemarie Walker smiled with surprise upon receipt of their packages. So, too, did Mark Dozel-Anderson, who has been suffering a multiplicity of health conditions since being shot nearly 40 years ago.

“I have a son that hasn’t been working and he tries to help me, but he has his mother and couple brothers, too, that him try to help. Last week, him send a money come give me to use buy some food, but it never worked out because I did owe couple shops well, so I made sure to clear the bills, or otherwise I can’t trust,” Anderson explained.