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For many, a long wait for food vouchers

Sitting with a broken foot and his cane nearby for support yesterday, Fidel Whymns, 41, said he was not prepared to wait another two hours for a food voucher from the National Food Distribution Task Force despite needing assistance.

After waiting nearly six hours, Whymns said he was number 98, but organizers had only reached 30 at that time.

“I have a family of 10 in the house,” he said.

“Six are children. It was the same situation last week. When I got to the front, they told me they were out of vouchers after I waited all day.

“The problem is the backlog. Some people are taking their friends’ and families’ numbers to cheat the system. It’s supposed to be one voucher per person.”

With the pressure of 10 family members depending on the food assistance, Whymns said the situation is difficult, but there’s no point complaining.

“Everybody is laid off,” he said. “The issue is, what can you do? You can beat around and complain, but it isn’t going to change anything. I just believe the competent authority needs to make decisions that make sense.”

With the crowd growing larger by the minute and no social distancing protocols being adhered to, Whymns said the government will continue to see a rise in COVID-19 cases.

“This distribution lacks structure,” he said. “They need to implement a number system that requires people to stay in their car until their number is called on a mic or something. That would alleviate the spread.”

The food vouchers were being distributed at Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road by the National Food Distribution Task Force.

Simone Brennen, a single mother of four, said despite the long lines, the food assistance program is her only hope.

“I have no other choice,” Brennen said.

“I’m sitting here and there’s no way out for me. I can only sit with patience and hope I get served.”

With a failed numbering system, she said, the numbers were not moving and people began jumping the lines.

“I was sitting here from 6 o’clock this morning,” Brennen said. “They are supposed to be calling off numbers, but it’s on pause. The numbers were on pause from 9 a.m. It’s afternoon now.”

With an explosion in COVID-19 cases across the country and a difficult food distribution process, Brennen said she should be allowed to return to work.

“To be honest, I am ready to go back to work to take care of myself,” she said. “The government system ain’t ready. It’s not organized.

“It’s not like back then when you could call for help. You call mommy, she is struggling. Call daddy, he is struggling too. Grammy struggling. Everyone is struggling.”

Thousands of Bahamians have lost their jobs since The Bahamas confirmed its first case of COVID-19 in March.

The country has been in a state of emergency for five months, with prolonged periods of business closures.

Director of Labour John Pinder recently estimated that unemployment in the country has already exceeded 40 percent. 

Among those packed in the congested auditorium was Evon “Maria” Johnson, 55, who held her head down in apparent pain due to a swollen leg, waiting for her number to be called for a food voucher.

“I feel dizzy. I came out here at 5:45 a.m., and all I had was a cup of tea. I had to try to get here as early as I could. We know the situation,” said Johnson, referring to the uncertainty of another lockdown.

She said although she’s in need, she is not prepared to wait all day for the food assistance which is a risk to her health.

“I would rather my health come first even though I need the help,” Johnson said. “If I sit here and fall out, I still won’t get it. I would probably end up exposed to more people with the virus from here to the hospital.

“I understand our health comes first. You still have people crowding. People are panic shopping. It makes no sense.”

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said recently that 27,705 households have registered for food assistance, representing more than 110,000 people across the country.

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Italia Clarke

Italia Clarke joined the Nassau Guardian in August 2020. Clarke covers national, human interest and social issues. Education: University of The Bahamas, BA in Media Journalism

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