By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the Trinidad and Tobago Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) to provide for more persons with fewer resources. The membership has found however, that their efforts have literally been the answers to the prayers of persons in need.
The SVP held a virtual training session Saturday, October, 24, at which members were invited to share their experiences serving the poor during the pandemic. President of the Tacarigua conference Desmond Codrington said there were many stories of encounters. They met someone who told them: “‘I was saying a prayer to ask God to help me because I was down to my last piece of food and just as I finish you all turned up’; these are the things we are hearing.” Many persons confided that they did not know where their next meal was coming from. Codrington said several people lost jobs because of COVID-19 and the SVP has been “trying to help as much as possible”..
He told the meeting that apart from the families usually served, there were “additional persons” who requested help through the hotline. Although hampers were received from the Archdiocese some were not adequate so the conference “bumped up the hampers” and distributed . The conference provided to Lopinot, Bon Air, Oropune Gardens, and Arouca. Codrington said the conference was fortunate to have a cadre of well-wishers who did not stop contributing. Help also came from persons when they realised the SVP had not stopped working during the pandemic. “We have been able to distribute to a wide variety of people,” Codrington said.
The State provided TT$30 million in three tranches of TT$10 million starting May to churches and faith-based organisations to provide emergency food aid to vulnerable individuals and families. With the end of this assistance and provision of hampers through the Archdiocese, Codrington said parishioners have been dropping items at the parish hall which were used for hampers. He said the SVP continued “by the grace of God” to serve persons in need.
George Maharaj, also from Tacarigua said it was a “touching experience” to go out and meet people where they lived. He recalled a young lady who contacted the hotline [607-HOPE/4673] for help and a hamper was arranged for her. They were to meet her at home for 5 p.m. but at 5.30 p.m. she had not arrived. When they did get through, she cried and asked them to wait because she had nothing to eat. On another outing to give a single parent of four a hamper, her neighbour appealed for help saying she had just gone to a shop to purchase biscuits for her children. On that day Maharaj had suggested they walk with an extra hamper just in case. “We met people from all walks of life,” he said.
Elycia Price of the SVP Mt Lambert conference said the closure of churches during the pandemic caused a drop in funding. The SVP bank account was distributed via WhatsApp chats to get donations. The hampers from the Archdiocese helped and some members prepared some. Price said the SVP was still able to serve the poor but she acknowledged “not in the same way”. She disclosed that the cost value of vouchers which were usually distributed had to be decreased due to lack of funds and sometimes hampers had to be reduced as less foodstuff was received. Prince said SVP “had to reach out to more people” with limited funds.
A few SVP conferences had seen new members joining during the pandemic.