How is the Church continuing to help those most in need during the lockdowns in the pandemic? Senior writer Lara Pickford-Gordon found out and reports.
“It is not easy being poor, worse, being poor during a pandemic,” said Brenda De La Rosa, president of the Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP) Todd’s Road Conference.
The work of the SVP has not stopped despite “limited resources”, said Cheridan Woodruffe, National Executive Liaison, Training and Development Officer. “It would not be the same for every Conference. They have been managing.” In addition to the regular families assisted, he said new cases were emerging which Conferences try to assist.
The closure of places of worship during the lockdown has halted the monthly second collection at Masses for the SVP; fundraising, too, has been impacted by Covid-19 restrictions.
Woodruffe said “the miracle of the loaves and fishes is happening at Conferences…It is difficult. I myself wonder how we do it.”
De La Rosa told the Catholic News that since March last year, the Conferences in central Trinidad have been meeting online to report on their areas and the requests received for help.
The Longdenville, Chaguanas, Couva, Carapichaima and Cunupia Conferences support specific families based on funds received from collections at Masses. Places of worship were among the places closed midnight April 29 with the rise in Covid-19 cases.
Providing an overview of how the Conferences in Central have functioned, she said the Todd’s Road Conference has been able to help families due to savings accrued from past fundraisers. Donations come in from persons in the community in a financial position to help when asked, but “most” in the area are living salary to salary.
The Longdenville Conference has had good collections from Masses in the past. “Now with no Masses, they have to be careful how they spend; they have to make sure the money can carry them for a length of time.”
The Mayo Conference depends on the Social Needs Committee (SNC). De La Rosa explained the SNCs were formed at the start of the pandemic as another ministry within parishes to help with the “new poor”. “Collaboration is being done with the SVP Conferences within the parish as they are on the ground and have first-hand information on people who are struggling after having just lost their jobs.” Names, addresses and phone numbers are sent to the SNC and placed on the list for the next distribution.
Carapichaima supports 40 families. “In the early stages of the pandemic, Carapichaima supported the SNC in their parish with items as they purchase in bulk from FEEL (Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Life). In return, their families received packages from the SNC.”
They continue to support the SNC when extra packages are required for migrants and new families. The newest Conference, in Tortuga was established about three months ago and was able to get help from the corporate sector for families in their area.
The pandemic has been challenging for the Conference members, most of whom are aged. Younger members are handling the deliveries to the needy.
Face-to-face visits have been replaced with phone calls and Zoom to keep in contact, show care and help families with any issues they had. “It’s really tough not being able to go out and visit. You get attached to the children; we no longer can do that.”
She added that there were a lot of new poor because no-one in the household was working. Migrants are also struggling. De La Rosa said the migrants are mainly in Couva, Carapaichaima, Chaguanas and Cunupia. She described present conditions for both locals and migrants as “heart rending”.
The SVP has been distributing masks to families as even these are scarce in some households with one mask in use.
Extra caution while helping
The members going out to do distributions are double masking and sanitising. They have several pens, so recipients do not repeatedly use a single pen. De La Rosa said members of the SVP were mindful of the children severely impacted— unable to socialise with their friends, confined at home, facing hunger—by the pandemic while, “they [members] try to protect themselves the best way they can”.
SVP member Timothy Aguilera who does deliveries said it was a risk to take foodstuff to families but also a joy. “I take precautions to sanitise and mask up and sometimes with a face shield that I got. They are happy to receive groceries because there is nothing coming in at all as the pandemic continues. They look forward to receiving…and seeing our SVP members as well.”
Aguilera said the living conditions of some residents were “terrible”, but the SVP tried to help, bringing smiles to their faces and “laughter, hope, a prayer”.
A mother from Todd’s Road, who with her husband are raising five children said, “thank you St Vincent de Paul for looking after our needs, food, education and spiritual needs; you have made a difference in our children’s life.”