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Money woes starve NGOs

Published:Sunday | February 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Feeding programmes for street people threatened as charities run out of cash

Noel Thompson, Gleaner Writer


The cash crunch affecting Jamaica has started to hit non-governmental organisations (NGOs) hard, with entities which care for homeless and mentally ill street persons facing a chronic food shortage.

Organisations such as the Manchester-based Foundation for Rehabilitation of Mentally Ill Street Persons and the Open Heart Charitable Mission in Montego Bay, St James, are struggling to provide the meals that many of the country's worst-offs depend on daily.

The 14 identified organisations say their programmes are being affected by a significant lack of funds, an increase in the homeless population, and a reduction in the donations from members of the public, which provide their lifeblood.

"A pound of rice or a chicken can go a long way in feeding several persons who have nothing to eat," declared Robert Clare, founder and director of Open Heart Charitable Mission as he appealed to persons to donate to the NGOs.

That is a sentiment shared by Linnett Bignall-Bleary of the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Mentally Ill Street Persons. However, she also wants the charities to do more to help themselves.

"The formation of a national association of non-governmental organisations would create greater buying power and result in a likely reduction in the cost of commodities.

"Additionally, an association would provide a network through which NGOs with excess amount of food supplies can notify and distribute to those in need to lessen food waste," Bignall-Bleary argued.

"If we had one body, so many things could be accomplished. We all want to help the poor," said Clare.

They were among a group of leaders of NGOs which care for homeless and street people who met at the Breezes Trelawny Resort recently. Forty-five representatives of charities operating across the island and the United States attended the event to discuss the looming crisis caused by the lack of funding and the reduction in donations.

Searching for answers

In searching for answers, the charities argued that they should be allowed to accept unused foods from hotels and restaurants.

According to Clare, hotels often dump unopened canned food because their shelf life has expired.

He said his research had shown that expired canned food could still be consumed up to six months later. Clare argued that these canned foods would go a far way in alleviating the severe food shortage, if the charities were allowed to accept them.

Bignall-Bleary also expressed hope that a deal could be worked out with hotels and restaurants that would increase the supply of food to the NGOs.

"I would like for the Public Health Department to work alongside the hotel industry to ensure proper storage, handling and transportation of unused food to organisations that deal with the feeding of homeless and street persons to alleviate the food shortage," said Bignall-Bleary.

But the public-health department has already indicated that it would be unlikely to approve either proposal.

"If the food is left over after being served to guests, we would not encourage that it be given to or consumed by other persons. If it is stored properly, then consideration could be given to that, but the health department would have to verify this and feel satisfied that the proper steps were taken in storing the food," said Marsha-Ann Palmer, acting regional occupational health and safety officer with the Western Regional Health Authority.

Not allowed

Palmer told
The Sunday Gleaner
that the health department would not encourage the acceptance of expired food items, as, under the Public Health Law, it would not be fit for human consumption.

"It could have excessive bacterial growth and multiplication. The natural enzymes in the food would be breaking down the food, causing spoilage. One of the department's main roles is to prevent food-borne illnesses," said Palmer.

The Foundation for Rehabilita-tion of Mentally Ill Street Persons feeds eight persons weekly and the cost is absorbed by Bignall-Bleary.

The Open Heart Charitable Mission started operating in December 2009 and dishes out 3,000 meals per month at a cost of $200,000, which is financed through donations.

The entity serves meals Monday through Friday.

Contributed photos

Open Heart Charitable Mission feeds the poor in the city.

Here is how you can help

  • Donations can be made to the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Mentally Ill Street Persons by contacting Linnett Bignall-Bleary at 477-7174 or email:
  • Donations can be made to the Open Heart Charitable Mission by contacting Nichola Dickson at 881-6759. Email: