“Phenomenal”, “fantastic”, Fr Cornelius Phillip; parish priest St Anthony’s RC Point Fortin says of the response by Catholics in his parish and beyond to their brothers and sisters in need. People came forward telling him “we want to help”. From St Peter’s Carenage in the north west to St Anthony’s Point Fortin and parishes east and west have quietly been feeding the multitude.
“Literally, help has been pouring out nicely and that is separate to the contribution they have been making to pandemic fund of the diocese,” he told the Catholic News. Ann Marie George, parish secretary St Peter’s Carenage spoke of answered prayers when she was anxious about meeting the needs of families. “We had enough,” she said. Schools are also doing their part such as St Therese RC Rio Claro, and Port of Spain—Nelson Street Girls’ RC, Bethlehem Boys’ RC, prepared hampers for distribution to the families of pupils or wider community.
The news of COVID prompted St Anthony’s to establish an Emergency Response Team. Different committees were formed: for inventory, data collection/analysis. A food drive was started for the “new needy”. The number of persons vary but it is increasing. “After we pack up and box up everything based on the number in the family, the distribution committee will take all these packs, all these boxes and take to the wider community,” Fr Phillip said. Hampers as well as food vouchers have been distributed. A hotline is manned by the parish secretary and the need identified relayed back to Fr Phillip, “whether if it is counselling, outreach to people, psychological needs all kinds of things; that’s why we set up a committee”. Another idea was for parishioners to “adopt a family” whereby they gave food or performed a service. Fr Cornelius said “sometimes those really in need do not come forward that is why we are the ears of the parish”.
George said 150 families of varying size received food. St Peter’s used WhatsApp groups to get the word out about its food drive, field requests for help and organise supplies. Volunteers. Information is collected on recipients and collated on a spread sheet.
“We did not start off catering for 150; it just mushroomed,” she said. There was the question of how the parish would feed the increasing number. George said, “people asked, it mushroomed, and people gave”. George said she prayed constantly. Hampers are labelled and the family contacted for pick-up, starting with the persons living closest. Deliveries were done for persons living farther. The system avoids crowds gathering. As new requests come in persons are added to the list and moved up for the next cycle of distribution. Resources are limited, however, and the parishes cannot help everyone. George said, “We pray it plugs a hole. We remind ourselves constantly we cannot literally feed everybody.”
Chaguanas parish of St Philip and St James distributed 160 hampers to families April 28 to May 4.
A few hampers were prepared for “walk-ins”. Calls were still coming in as word spread, and Jason Jackman, a member of the men’s ministry reported more than 30 calls for assistance to the hotline May 4. The men’s group in the parish formed a distribution network which worked in shifts, 9.30 a.m.-12.30 a.m., 12.30 a.m. – 3.30 p.m., 3.30 p.m. – 6.30 p.m. delivering hampers to persons. Jackman said there will be “follow-up” with families in two weeks to find out how they were going and “to render assistance”. He said the Chaguanas parish was the distribution hub for the Central Vicariate and bulk food supplies shared with other parishes, about 12 were sent to Flannigan Town.
St Philip and St James, like other parishes had a team of persons dividing and parcelling the food for the hampers. Jackman said the size and contents in the hampers were determined by the family; a hamper for a household with two seniors will not include children’s snacks. The food drive was supported with donations from the Eternal Light Community, Living Water Community, parishioners, and supplies received by Fr Derek Anton.
Fr David Khan said the food distribution at Our Lady of Perpetual Help San Fernando in April was “a wonderful testimony of Christian charity. He felt “extremely proud to be the parish priest of a community that definitely has a preferential option for the needy.” The parish prepared hampers and sent them to parishes for sharing to “at least” 500 persons. He thanked the persons who packed and delivered them.
Food drives continue in parishes.