Feed the Families initiative to alleviate hunger and povertyPOSTED: 11/25/14 10:12 PM
St. Maarten – “Poverty knows no name. It knows no ethnicity. It doesn’t differentiate between nationalities. It doesn’t recognize your country of birth. And many times than not, the inability to gain means to access food is the very first sign that poverty has come home, right here in paradise,” said Head of Labor Affairs and acting Head of Social Services Peggy-Ann Dros-Richardson at the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the different stakeholders who signed on to help provide families in need with food through the Feed the Families initiative.
Director of Bimaco Distributors Andre Dijkhoffz, Managing director of Le Grand Marché Anil Sabnani and Managing director of Prime Distributors Danny Ramchamdani met with Dros-Richardson on Monday to sign the agreement between the different food distributors and the Department of Social Services to help alleviate poverty and hunger on the island of St. Maarten. Missing at the signing of the MOU was Steven Huang of Sunny Foods; however, Huang had signed the agreement beforehand.
This initiative was the brain child of Dros-Richardson’s late colleague, Patricia Pantophlet, whose wish was to reach out and assist those less fortunate in the St. Maarten community. From this wish Dros-Richardson created the Food in the Box program, whereby, each month, workers at the Department of Labor Affairs and the Department of Social Services donated one or more nonperishable food items, which were placed in a designated box in the office. The program yielded three boxes of canned goods, which were given to three families. Each box contained enough food to feed a family of four to six persons.
Dros-Richardson met with the major food suppliers in October to bring forward the idea of Feed the Families. Social workers Rachel Doorson-Gefferie, Gisella Hilliman and Jacqueline Wilson worked “long, tireless hours” to have this initiative come to fruition. Without the cooperation of Dijkhoffz, Sabnani, Ramchamdani and Huang, and their willingness to commit to the project, this would not have been possible today, said Dros-Richardson.
The Feed the Families initiative has a dual trajectory: in addition to providing families in need, who are identified by the social workers, with nonperishable items from the different food distributors, food items will be donated to the Bishop Ellis Foundation and the New Testament Baptist Church soup kitchen – two organizations that “have proven to stay the course through thick and thin.” In order to receive these food items, families have to report on a monthly basis to the Department of Social Services to have their food cards stamped. Their cards will also be stamped at the point of collection at the designated supermarkets. Participants in this initiative will be closely monitored by social workers to prevent any abuse of the system. The Feed the Families initiative will go on for one year.
“It’s a noble and nice initiative that has been organized by Social Services… I’m happy that Peggy-Ann and her team started this, as it’s good for the island,” said Ramchamdani of Prime Distributors. “It’s a good initiative because there are churches and organizations that take care of kids who are in need of support,” said Dijkhoffz of Bimaco Distributors. He went on to say that in the past, Dimaco Distributors has donated to several schools and organizations. “I would encourage those in the food distribution business to join this initiative,” Dijkhoffz concluded. Sabnani of Le Grand Marché echoed Dijkhoffz’s and Ramchamdani’s statements, saying, “At the end of the day, everybody can make a difference.”
For a second year in a row, the No Gift policy is in full force at the Department of Labor Affairs and the Department of Social Services. “Our employees are paid to work diligently and do not expect, and will not accept, any form of gratitude that goes beyond the verbal expression of ‘thank you.’ Any business entity that wishes to show gratitude for services rendered should do so by donating food items/gifts to NGOs and foundations duly established on our island,” said Dros-Richardson.