SISTER Mary Benedict, RSM, CD, 85-year-old Religious Sister of Mercy, is no stranger to the elderly and less fortunate, especially of the inner-city in Kingston. No matter where in Kingston they live, the poor find their way to Laws Street Trade Training Centre, where training, food and other necessities are provided for those who are in need.
Sister Benedict, co-founder and executive director of Laws Street Trade Training Centre, who was conferred with the Order of Distinction, Commander Class, has the distinction of being the first Jamaican to organise a truce in 1974 between waring gangs in downtown Kingston. She believes that the island’s elderly are often abandoned or deprived of critical care.
In an interview recently, Sr Benedict said, “Hundreds of elderly persons in Jamaica are suffering, especially in the areas of housing and food. I say housing because the conditions under which some of these people live are inhumane. I believe our nation can be brought to a stage where access to proper health care and other outreach services are easily available to, and affordable for elderly persons who are poor and are unable to pay the current costs.
“The number of elderly persons coming to our centre has increased, not only in the persons who come for packages on a fortnightly basis, but on a daily basis for food, too. This shows that things have gotten worse for them. It is so bad that sometimes there is conflict, because there is not enough to satisfy everyone. Something needs to do done to find relief for these persons,” she said.
On a fortnightly basis, approximately 350 care packages are prepared by Sister Benedict and her team members for needy persons, mainly elderly persons. These packages include rice, sugar, cornmeal, ricemeal, peas, mackerel, sausages, bread, biscuits, toilet paper, drinks and other necessities which are donated. She said sometimes approximately 100 persons are left behind because she has no more to distribute.
“We need to invest in our people, including the elderly. It does not have to be financial investments either, it can be of our time. I think those who are not able to go out and seek assistance, would appreciate people visiting them because many of our elderly are very lonely. I think showing that we care for and love them will do much good,” Sister Benedict said.
During the recent season of Lent, Sister Benedict and her team hosted 20 elderly persons each day, providing warm meals. “This is something we would love to continue, if only we had the funds. We could continue outside of Lent, too,” she said.
She urges the island’s churches to merge their efforts to benefit more of our elderly and other vulnerable persons. “I would like to see more of the churches with feeding programmes and outreach for helping the poor coordinated together in some way,” she said.
*Featured image: Sister Mary Benedict Chung, a religious Sister of Mercy and administrator of the Laws Street Trade Training Centre in Kingston, was recently honoured by the board members of Food For The Poor Jamaica. Sister Benedict organised the first gang truce in the inner city of Kingston in 1974 and formally served as principal of the Holy Family All-Age School. Here, Sister Benedict stands in the centre, surrounded by Food For The Poor board members (from left) Professor Michael Lee, Debbie-Ann Gordon Crawford, Jean Lowrie-Chin, Chris Bicknell, Andrew Mahfood, David Mair and Gerald Mahfood, Director. The event was held at Terra Nova Hotel on Thursday, March 9.