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The local Church shares on pandemic relief efforts

Many are in desperate need of assistance as evidenced by the long lines that form when various organisations distribute food hampers. Catholic News’ Lara Pickford-Gordon puts the spotlight on the pandemic relief work provided by the Archdiocese of Port of Spain.

The Archdiocese’s hotline 607-HOPE (4673) has assisted thousands of individuals and families and given hope in the midst of frustration and uncertainty.

Behind the calls are persons sharing their inability to meet their basic need for food—husbands and wives in the same household unemployed for months, and self-employed persons whose financial state went from bad to worse under the State of Emergency.

There are single parents, mainly females, unable to get the odd jobs they have relied on for income; aunts and grandmothers parenting children whose parents are not around or have died.

“Literally, the cupboard is bare and the call they are making is their only hope,” said Fr Derek Anton as he gave insight into the circumstances of persons from the calls received by the hotline responder for the Central vicariate.

“Some persons disclosed that they are working, for example six months, but not getting paid, and some others who were taking long to get paid. So even [for] people who are employed, there is a kind of uncertainty about getting their pay,” he said.

Fr Anton, the Moderator for Couva/Chaguanas/Carapichaima, Episcopal Vicar for the Central Vicariate, and the Archdiocese hotline team lead, said at the end of the conversation, callers sounded “a little more positive” because they are “expecting something”. He has told the hotline responder, “we have a responsibility to ensure the hope is not a false hope.”

Thousands called

The hotline was launched at the end of April 2020, and for May there were 2,200 registered calls; this reduced in the coming months. By June 2020, the number was 836, 467 in July, 600 in August and 395 in September.

“In the last quarter of last year, first four months of this year, very few calls. April [2021] was maybe under 100 but when we went back into lockdown and State of Emergency…May jumped up to 1,100,” Fr Anton said in an interview June 20 as he gave an overview of the service. The number is for all vicariates including Tobago.

With the names of religious organisations given grants by the State to provide food hampers listed online for the public by the Office of the Prime Minister (Ecclesial Affairs), he anticipated calls may increase again.

Under the system, the information from the hotline is sent to the parishes for action by the Social Needs Committees (SNCs). Fr Anton said the list of questions from the hotline responders has been expanded in order to supply the information required by the State in relation to the grant received. For example, the number in the household.

The Archdiocese is also collecting information, such as employment status, and whether the caller is receiving State assistance to help assess the client’s situation. The information is shared with the SNC, which does follow-up “to find out more particulars about their circumstances,” he said.

Fr Anton added, “you have to expect most, if not all callers are in need, but if you can’t handle all, you have to prioritise who seems to be more in need and how many persons in the household and that kind of thing”.

SNCs can also get requests from within their parish from ministries—Society of St Vincent de Paul, Parish Ministry for Migrants & Refugees (PMMR). He explained they are supposed to compile all the requests to know what the needs are for the parish.

SNCs subsequently place orders with the collection team, headed by Fr David Khan, Parish Priest, San Fernando, and Episcopal Vicar for the Southern Vicariate who collates the orders from the parishes.

Separate and apart from the 607-HOPE, Fr Anton said parishes may also be preparing food hampers and vouchers for persons in need.

The Archdiocese has implemented a system which would allow persons handling data management for the SNCs to see in “real time” the calls recorded for help, and the hamper deliveries made for their parish.

“It is an attempt to ensure that information is readily available…that will help us account to the government and account to the Archdiocese in terms of what deliveries have been made.”

In the case of Chaguanas, he said the parish had from May to June 8, almost 600 names listed from the hotline. He however, surmised that some calls could be persons calling again about earlier requests for help.

Fr Anton told the Catholic News the “lion’s share” of hotline calls were in the Central Vicariate followed by the Southern then the Northern.

People are generous

On June 22, Fr Khan reported that for June 6, 300 hampers were distributed in Trinidad and 640 hampers in Tobago.

The Catholic Church is among religious bodies that received funding from the State to assist with food support during the pandemic. This enabled 2,500 hampers to be prepared.

To support the ‘Feed a Family’ pandemic relief, the Archdiocese has been inviting donations to Republic Bank Account 3405 0905 2501 or CLICK HERE to make online payments. 

Referring to this, Fr Khan said the initiative has different categories of financial contributions people can make.

In addition, “we are also promoting the initiative that people are generous,” he said. Fr Khan mentioned the example of farmer Navindra Heeralal in Rio Claro, who rather than dump his cassava crop because of the sharp decline in market price, offered it to needy people for free.

“We are looking for people like that,” he said.