WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 19: Churches are being flooded with pleas for help in ‘breadline Bermuda’.
As the recession bites hard, congregations are assisting with everything from free meals to rent and power bills — in ever-increasing numbers.
Hamilton Seventh Day Adventist Church yesterday launched a public appeal to help its Operation Five Loaves and Two Fish campaign as the number of people seeking help mushrooms.
The AME church told us yesterday that its feeding programme has expanded by at least 10 per cent. And the Catholic church has seen a massive five-fold increase in the number of islanders seeking free meals.
“…We targeted homeless people originally but we’re now seeing the working poor,” says Catholic aid worker Joanne Judd.
“That’s people who have perhaps lost their main job, are working part-time and using all their money for rent and power.”
The Hamilton Seventh Day Adventist congregation runs a twice-weekly meals programme which has seen huge increases in demand. James Landy, an elder at the church, said:
“We’ve swollen from numbers in the 20s to as high as 110 on any given night — that has extended us quite a bit.”
Mr Landy added that the church now wanted to extend the programme to giving away boxes of food to those with nowhere else to turn.
He said: “We are looking to feed at least 100-150 people this Sunday. The only way we can do that is by partnering with the community.
“By doing that, we will be able to meet more of the demands and needs we’re seeing.”
Mr Landy added: “The programme was initially for the homeless, but we’re seeing people now who don’t have a job and can’t provide for themselves.
“It’s not just one section of society who are in need now, if you will. We’re seeing people with families who maybe don’t have a job, we’re seeing older people coming, we’re seeing children coming.
“What we’re seeking is for the community to partner with us – this work has become very heavy and we can’t do it alone. I’m sure it’s not just us – other churches and community groups will be feeling the same strain as us.”
But Mr Landy promised: “We will be able to sustain this as long as long as the Bermuda community works with us. It’s not a one-off – we’ll do it as long as we can.”
Joanne Judd, Bermuda president of the international Catholic aid organization, the St Vincent de Paul Society, said numbers at the Loaves and Fishes weekly free meals programme had jumped from 10-15 when it was founded three years ago to 75 or 80.
She added: “We’re experienced the same sort of demographics the Seventh Day Adventists are – we targeted homeless people originally too, but we’re now seeing the working poor.”
St Vincent de Paul volunteers also work with other aid organisations to coordinate help and provide food vouchers for use in the MarketPlace chain.
Ms Judd said: “We work together with other agencies, who can, for example, provide non-perishable goods, so the vouchers can be used for fresh food like bread, milk and vegetables. There are a lot of people out there, churches out there, who are doing things people have never heard of, but who are feeding people now. This upsurge is a direct result of people losing jobs. A lot of the people who are contacting us now are people who have lost their jobs.
“We’re very fortunate in that we’re supported by parishioners across the island, financially, with food and with their time as volunteers, so we’re managing at the moment.”
Reverend Betty Woolridge, presiding elder of the AME Church in Bermuda and pastor at St Philip’s Church in Smith’s, confirmed demand for AME programmes has also increased.
She said: “All of our 11 churches are doing some sort of community programmes. I know the feeding programmes have increased – perhaps by ten per cent or more. But all of our churches are involved now, which they weren’t before.”
Rev. Woolridge added that in her former parish, Allen Temple in Somerset, a meals delivery programme targeted at seniors had swollen from 24 recipients seven years ago to as many as 80 today.
And she said the Heard Chapel, Pembroke, free clothing programme had also seen increases in demand as more families fall below the poverty line.
Rev. Woolridge said: “We do things a little differently in that we cook and deliver to people and we get boxes of canned and boxed food together so we can deliver them too. The increases are from people who are now affected by recession and the elderly are being affected more.”
Hamilton Seventh Day Adventist Church, King Street, is accepting donations of both non-perishable and perishable foods until Saturday.
The food will be used to make up boxes of food, which will be available to the needy from noon to 2pm at the church’s Youth Centre. The church will also have a team of volunteers to deliver to those unable to get to the church.
To donate food contact Mr Landy on 534-9600 or the church at 292-276 or at HamiltonSDA@northrock.bm. The St Vincent De Paul Society’s Loaves and Fishes programme operates on Sundays between 5.30pm-6pm at St Theresa’s Hall, Laffan St, Pembroke.