Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Spirit of community - 100 children benefit from monthly Alligator Head Foundation care packages

Published:Saturday | July 11, 2020 | 12:00 AMJamila Litchmore/Special Projects and Engagement Editor
General Manager of the Alligator Head Foundation, Nickie Myers (left), and Pamella Grant, a parent and recipient of the monthly care packages. Grant, a bartender, saw significant economic fallout after Jamaica recorded its first case of COVID-19 and bars were ordered closed.
Principals Norene Pollock (left) of Drapers Basic School and Sandra Becca of the Drapers Primary School.
Clarence ‘Rocky’ Anderson prepares care packages inside the kitchen of the Ridge to Reef Restaurant which has become the headquarters for storage, packaging and distribution.
Caroline Bingh, whose youngest is three years old, says the care packages have been a great help.
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Families of 100 children in east Portland are getting some much-needed support in the form of monthly care packages from the Alligator Head Foundation.

The marine conservation non-profit began distributing the care packages in April, as a way to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on children and their families.

The foundation targets Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) students, who would have depended on the meals provided at schools, by providing them and their families with grocery items at the end of every month.

Schools across Jamaica closed March 13 after Jamaica recorded its first case of COVID-19 on March 10. The move to online and remote learning proved challenging for many families, particularly those who receive PATH benefits.

Established in 2016, the Alligator Head Foundation protects the six-kilometre area of the east Portland coastline, known as the East Portland Fish Sanctuary. It is a responsibility they take seriously, as they fulfil their aim of working for “fish-filled seas, healthy reefs and thriving communities”.

“That’s the heartbeat of what our activities are. That’s what drives us. That is where we start, and that is where we end. It’s our guide, and it’s our platform,” Nickie Myers, general manager of the foundation, told The Gleaner.

Myers says it was important for the foundation to focus on supporting children. As a result, they looked to schools within the community and asked the principals to help them prepare a list.

Two principals who assisted Myers are Sandra Becca, principal of Drapers Primary, and Norene Pollock, principal of Drapers Basic.

For Becca, whose school had previously partnered with the foundation on environmental conservation projects, and Pollock, the packages were a tremendous help to parents.

“What we are happy for is that it wasn’t a one-shot event. It has been something that is ongoing, and the parents have been truly appreciative,” said Becca.

The foundation funds the packages through donations and its patron and founder, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Recipients are called each month, and an appointment made for collection.

Chef at the property’s Ridge to Reef Restaurant, Clarence’ Rocky’ Anderson, is integral in preparing the packages, describing his added duties as “providing a different kind of food”.

Closed because of COVID-19 restrictions, the restaurant has become the command centre for receiving and storing goods, and the packaging and distribution of the care packages.

“I’m a father, I have kids, so I have [an] idea of some of the things that will make it better for kids staying at home in terms of meal preparation,” said Anderson.

He says it takes about a week to put the packages together, from making the list of items required to distribution.

Since its inception, the care package initiative has received support from the Jamaica Producers Group Limited, through its JP St Mary’s brand, in the form of green and ripe bananas and banana chips.

They have also received support from the community.

“We had one community member, who, when she heard of the programme and what we were doing, she volunteered to add masks to the bags. So she made 100 masks herself, for us to be able to hand out to the children,” said Myers.

Local supermarkets have also been integral in providing preferential rates, where possible.

Another by-product of the initiative is the support it provides to farmers and suppliers who would have experienced economic fallout from COVID-19 and the closure of restaurants and other establishments. Produce and chicken, sourced from local farmers, were included in the packages.

“We looked at seeing if we could assist them with getting the stock from them and placing it in a place where there was [a] need,” said Myers.

A resident of Clear Spring, Caroline Bingh, was told about the initiative by Becca.

Days before Jamaica recorded its first case of COVID-19, the 47-year-old mother of six lost her employer, a lady for whom she used to wash and clean. Without an income and troubled by health issues, including diabetes and high blood pressure, the closure of school compounded her financial woes. The packages have helped Bingh and her family face difficult months.

It is the same for Pamella Grant, who lives in the community of Drapers. Grant was informed of the initiative by Pollock.

The 35-year-old mother of three says, with the closure of bars to prevent the spread of COVID-19, her income took a hit. She often wondered how she would pay her bills. She says she is grateful for the assistance.

“It has been wonderful, help me a lot because, at the time, [I was] out of a job,” said Grant, who works a bartender.

With the apparent benefits to members of the community, the Alligator Head Foundation hopes to be able to not only sustain the initiative, but also secure additional donations and support.

“Everybody knows, under normal circumstances, September is usually a challenge, because there’s a lot of expenses for children to resume school in September with or without COVID. COVID-19 exacerbates the situation for a lot of parents because the expenses are still there, but a lot of them don’t have the income. So we would love to be able to continue bridging that gap, at least for that first month, when school opens, and if it is that we can continue it beyond that, then definitely [as] the need is there,” said Myers.

To contact the Alligator Head Foundation, visit @alligatorheadfoundation on Instagram, email nickie@alligatorheadfoundation.org or call (876) 993-0336. Have a good story you’d like to share? Email us at goodheart@gleanerjm.com.

jamila.litchmore@gleanerjm.com