Charity eyes special emergency-response team
Requests for emergency assistance for victims of natural disasters, fire and other tragedies are a feature of the workday for employees of Food For The Poor (FFP). However, one such phone call from Dr Omar Davies, member of parliament for St Andrew South, about a fire in Arnett Gardens late last year presented some challenges.
The call came about 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, a Saturday, and, with the following Monday and Tuesday being public holidays, there would be no one in office for at least the next three days.
With the appeal being for immediate assistance for the fire victims – mattresses, food and clothing at least – the agency responded.
However, FFP Chairman Andrew Mahfood, acknowledged the situation highlighted the need for a specialised emergency response team to deal with such situations.
“I would actually like to see us be able to do that as well, because we are dealing with a situation where the people don’t have a place to sleep tonight. So if we can even get them some emergency supplies like mattresses, or clothing so they can at least get on their feet the next day, that would be good,” he told The Gleaner.
Proof of ownership impacting assistance in inner-city areas
Andrew Mahfood, chairman of Food For the Poor, says the organisation’s ability to assist with the building of homes for persons in the inner city is being stymied by the beneficiaries’ inability to provide proof of ownership of the land or legal access to occupy the premises.
“It is one of the things that delays our effort considerably. If we were able to go into an area like Arnett (Gardens), where people have been living for many years, and just rebuild, the process would happen quicker, but we require proof of land ownership or lease, to show that they have the right to be on the land, to show that the taxes have been paid on the land. We need to ensure that our recipients have the right to be on the spot that we are building,” Mahfood said.
“What we’ve found in the past is that if we don’t follow those guidelines and regulations, we could end up building on lands that somebody else owns and then before you know it, somebody else comes and says, ‘You have to come out of that house, it’s my land’. But if we can somehow find a way where the lands in the inner city, the people can get the right to them, somehow it will speed up our efforts considerably.”
Charity organisation seeking to engage in community-development projects
Food For The Poor (FFP) is looking to partner with the State in community development in a more sustainable way, involving the construction of houses, community centres, places of worship, schools, etc.
“(The State) could give us plots of land where we can encourage community-type living and farming and co-operative-type. We’ve approached them and we’ve gotten initially some good feedback and it’s something we’re gonna have more discussion on. Agriculture presents a great opportunity for us and the people, given Food For The Poor’s ability to fund agriculture and water harvesting where you can put multiple tanks together with a source and feed it. Food For The Poor can, out in those tanks, we can put in pumps,” Food For the Poor Chairman Andrew Mahfood disclosed.
The charity organisation is now looking for recipients who are serious about getting into agriculture, especially with donors in the United States opting more to fund income-generating sustainable projects in agriculture, with water harvesting and sanitation issues a priority.
Said Mahfood: “We’re looking for areas where we can put in big water projects because donors in the United States are very interested in water, in being able to provide water and being able to provide sanitation. Those two areas we are finding our donors gravitating more towards. So let’s say that we have this project in a community, there is no running water. We can go and put in 30,000 gallons but once we confirm that there is a need, the office in Florida will then go to its donors and circulate it and get it funded.”
LOCAL BUSINESS SUPPORT
In the area of housing financing, which caters to individuals or families, more local businesses are taking an active interest by sponsoring 50 per cent of the cost of a standard Food For The Poor dwelling, which now stands at US$7,200. The charity organisation is quick to match any amount of such offers with a 50 per cent contribution.
Over the three-and-a-half decades of helping the less fortunate, political interference in its operations has been a non-issue, which Mahfood attributes to an appreciation of its stellar service.
“Our politicians and our Government, I think, do recognise that we can play a big role for the country and for them as well. If an MP is able to lobby Food For The Poor to do a lot of work in their area, it helps them. We don’t work with any particular MP. We want to work with every single MP in both parties. I believe that Jamaica, through the organisation, has a huge potential to do a lot more projects and we see those projects being funded in other countries. So one of the things that we have decided to for this year is to really mock up some very big projects and go after those donors in America that are funding the very same projects for other countries.”