The St. Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) in Santa Cruz has come to the aid of parents, who are facing financial hardship due to the effects of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, providing them with care packages containing food items.
Some 50 families have so far benefited from the initiative, in particular those on the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
Each food package contains rice, sugar, cornmeal, tang, noodles, meat, ground provisions, fruits, vegetables, Vienna sausages, corned beef, mackerel, broad beans, eggs, snack bags for students, among other things.
The initiative is the brainchild of English Language and eighth-grade form teacher, Dania Allen, who tells JIS News that she was moved with compassion after hearing the plight of a student, whose mother has been laid off due to the fallout in the tourism industry.
“She said miss, ‘I just need to know how I can get some food. I asked, is mommy working? She said, no, mommy has been laid off’,” Ms. Allen shares.
She notes that another student had posted on his WhatsApp status that he misses the lunch he would get at school.
“I looked at this big pantry in my house filled with food and my students were hungry, yet I am asking them to sign in online, do the work… and to make sure it comes in.
“I realized that my students were being affected more than I thought so I reached out to several of them that I know received lunch as part of the PATH programme and asked how they were managing at home. Several of them were really honest and said they are not managing,” she relates.
With the help of her family and friends in New York, where she lived for over 20 years before returning to Jamaica, Ms. Allen says she was able to raise over US$1500 to purchase grocery items for students and their families.
She says that the operator of the Bun Bung supermarket in Santa Cruz donated 50 pounds of rice.
Principal of STETHS, Keith Wellington, eagerly supported the cause, providing eggs and phone cards to add to the care packages.
Ms. Allen tells JIS News that a parent, who supplies produce to hotels “donated everything in her storehouse.”
“I got about 200 squashes, over 100 zucchinis, hundreds of tomatoes, honey-dew melon, and hundreds of sweet peppers. She gave us beetroot, kale, romaine lettuce. She said she was going to send it (the produce) out to have it sold in the market but since it is for the families, she will give it free of cost,” she notes.
The distribution process started on April 1 and given the regulations regarding social distancing, Ms. Allen says that an appointment system was set up for parents to visit the institution to pick up the packages.
“Parents have been coming in from as far as Westmoreland. A parent also came in from Clarendon and she said she didn’t have any money so she hitched a ride on a truck to come because of how great the need was,” Ms. Allen says.
“It has really been a remarkable experience. First of all, you can see the amazement because people come with a little shopping bag and we ended up having to pack garbage bags,” she laughs.
Ms. Allen says the students and their parents are overwhelmed by the support.
“The children are so filled with gratitude because every single child that we have helped has texted me. They are like ‘Miss Allen you don’t know what you have done for my parents or what you have done for us, thank you so much’,” she tell JIS News.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wellington tells JIS News that he was happy to have partnered with Ms. Allen to bring cheer to the families of students, who are in need.
“I volunteered to support the cause by providing additional stuff for the baskets. We also included the guidance counsellor so we could try and identify students, who we knew were needy as well as those who would have reached out to us,” he says.
He informs that the past students’ association supported the cause with a cash donation of $100, 000.
Mr. Wellington says the feedback from parents would suggest that “they are really appreciative of the effort and I think it has made a difference.”
Annespia Spence from New Market, St. Elizabeth, who was among the beneficiaries, tells JIS News that she is grateful for the support, which will greatly assist her family.
She commends Ms. Allen and Mr. Wellington for coming to the aid of students and their families.
“My daughter is really appreciative of what they are doing. The package is like a balanced diet. We got fruits, vegetables, juices and meat stuff… so I am really thankful because things are a little bit slow now,” she says.
Meanwhile, Ms. Allen vows to continue the initiative, noting that persons outside of the school community have been requesting support.
“Mr. Wellington and I decided that after the Easter break, anyone who continues to reach out to us, we will do another round. I am pushing for as long as school is out, once a child reaches out we will… provide,” she tells JIS News.