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More than 23,500 households receiving food assistance

The reach of the National Food Distribution Task Force has grown steadily and now touches more than 23,500 households across the nation, the task force reported yesterday.

An estimated equivalent of 96,000 people are receiving food assistance, it said.

“Earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit The Bahamas and collapsed the economy, food security quickly became a national priority. In response, the prime minister established the Food Distribution Task Force to ensure vulnerable persons throughout the country continued to have access to food,” the body said in a statement.

“The task force is a unique partnership between the government and national non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Nearly two months into the 12-week program, the task force has distributed more than 65,000 food parcels and 10,000 food vouchers. As the economy continues to be impacted by the pandemic, the need for food assistance continues to grow.”

The statement noted that in the 2020-2021 budget, the government committed $16 million to food assistance, which represents 85 percent of the projected national food assistance need.

Participating NGOs are contributing the remaining 15 percent, some $2.82 million, through private cash and in-kind donations, the statement said.

“Another invaluable NGO contribution is their volunteers who contribute thousands of hours a week to carry out the work of food assistance,” it added.

Task Force Chair Susan Larson spoke highly of the NGOs.

“They are doing an incredible job ramping up to assist thousands of people in need,” she said.

“They work tirelessly and often thanklessly to source, package, and distribute food parcels or vouchers. The country owes them a great debt of gratitude.”

Larson also highlighted the volunteer and private philanthropic support NGOs are receiving, saying, “The humanitarian outpouring has been desperately needed and deeply appreciated.”

She added, “NGOs are also being helped by ongoing generous donations coming in from people everywhere. These donations are the lifeblood of the NGOs as they are under enormous pressure to carry out food distribution and also find the time to fund raise. To all those who are sending in private donations, thank you. You truly are saving the day.”

An “innovative” database is supporting the work of the task force, according to the statement.

“Provided pro bono by a local IT company, the database is helping the task force manage who is in need and where, as well as what support recipients have received and when,” it added.

“The RAPID Database has been an important tool to the task force. One thousand households have registered for assistance in just the last 24 hours.”

Because the task force is charged with assisting the most vulnerable and nationally the availability of funds will continue to be challenging, criteria have been developed to objectively identify a person’s level of vulnerability from high, to medium, to low, the task force said.

“As this is not a free food program, and hence contingent on funding, we are cognizant that resources are limited and we must assist those who are most vulnerable,” Larson said.

She also reported that while most recipients of food assistance are genuinely grateful, there is a growing sector of the population trying to game the system.

“We debated going public with this information,” Larson said, “because most people are respectful of the situation and understand the need. But a vexing number of people are being deceptive. They have forced us to devote hundreds of man hours to data verification, and they create unnecessary complications at check-in, slowing down processes for everyone.

“More importantly, they are being selfish and compromising the task force’s ability to help as many people who are truly vulnerable as possible.”

She added, “Our Cabinet mandate and our intention is to help the most vulnerable in our communities. We are not handing out free food to everyone. We are a food assistance program, assisting the most vulnerable. And we are committed to continuing to do that.”

A public-private partnership, the National Food Distribution Task Force comprises government and non-government representation.

In New Providence, the zone leaders include Bahamas Feeding Network, Bahamas Red Cross, Hands for Hunger, and Lend a Hand Bahamas.

One Eleuthera Foundation is the leader for Eleuthera, Harbour Island, and Spanish Wells.

IDEA Relief heads up the outreach on Abaco and the Abaco Cays. The GB Multi-Sectoral Committee spearheads the work on Grand Bahama. The remaining Northern Bahamas Islands are coordinated by Bahamas Red Cross, while the Bahamas Feeding Network leads the efforts in the Southern Bahamas Islands.

The Department of Social Services is involved nationally. The Lyford Cay Foundation, Organization for Responsible Government, and UNDP Bahamas Office are also members of the task force.

Many other NGOs, community groups, churches, and civic organizations are supporting partners, according to the press.

It added that while the task force does not have a website, it can be found on Facebook and Instagram at FEEDBAHAMAS or contacted by email at bahamas.nfstf@gmail.com.

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