Yvonne Townsend helps 305 in 30 years
Philanthropist continues to care for homeless, underserved
When Yvonne Townsend started the Friends in Need charity in 1992, she had no idea that hundreds of children would be entrusted to her care and underserved families across the island would turn to her as their last resort for basic commodities.
Townsend was the little girl from humble beginnings whose regular dolly house sessions featured those who were homeless, underprivileged and hungry. Yet, if you had asked her then what her life would turn out to be, she would have never imagined her present life.
What she knew, however, was that she wanted to serve people, and as soon as she was of the age, she signed up for the Jamaican Constabulary Force, which ultimately provided the resources and made way for her life in full-time philanthropy.
Over the last 30 years, Townsend said she has cared for over 305 children, along with adults whose adversities extend the gamut.
“It started when I used to go to court as a police and the judge knew me more as a foster mother and less as an officer. He would even ask, ‘Miss Townsend, you want this one, too?’ hoping to get another child into a proper facility,” she explained.
Townsend, who served as a police officer in the parishes of St James and Manchester and later in the Cayman Islands, completed a bachelor’s degree programme in public administration and a master’s degree in counselling and psychology.
But none of that mattered when she returned to Jamaica to transform her own two-storey house into a safe home, leaving behind the luxuries that a well-paying job afforded her.
“My mother tell me say me leave college with two degrees and come turn (thrift) shop owner. But I was just humble enough to know that if a turn me turn wutlis (worthless), I am a degreed wutlis girl. This I what I was called to do, and I have to just do it,” Townsend said in jest, while explaining that the thrift shop was created to sustain the safe home.
She said she never knows what is behind someone’s visit to the thrift store or phone call, but a ‘Say no’ policy is maintained.
“Sometimes, someone will come to buy something and based on how they look and sound, you are pressed to ask how they are doing. Several responses later, and my house is full. We don’t discriminate. It could be the HIV patients, the deaf, the blind, the dumb, fire victims, victims of crime; we try to help everyone.”
Though Townsend’s initial plan was just to accommodate children, she revealed that as the needs grew, she had to adapt.
“We have helped over 40 families. At the onset of COVID, we had a peak. People lost jobs; couldn’t pay their rent. It was a last resort for the people… . We had to be begging for help, and people really came through and showed their compassionate side. We have donors like Mr Phillip Hawthorne, who donated appliances and continues to help and call ever so often to check up on us… . We appreciate all our partners for helping in whatever way they can.”
Almost every day of the week, Townsend can either be found at her thrift store, tending to customers, feeding up to 50 homeless persons, managing matters of the safe home or answering a phone that seemingly rings non-stop.
“I don’t get tired, but I do experience burnout sometimes. I haven’t taken a leave in 15 years because I don’t have a deputy. I have volunteers who come in once they have the time and others who are unemployed, and I have to give a stipend. But I am the head cook and bottle washer.”
STRIKING A BALANCE
With a passion for finding a way where there seems to be none, Townsend said she relies on God and her immediate family to help her strike a balance.
“There are cases that are difficult, and I will work it out in my brain so much that I burn out, and my husband has to tell me that I have to take a different route… . I beg God to make a way because when the people come to me, some of them are at rock bottom, they have nowhere else to go, and I have to do all I can to help… . My daughter is very supportive of the work I do, and my husband plays a significant role. He makes things happen, even if it means he has to cook, clean and spend time with children.”
As she celebrates 30 years in the business, Townsend said she thrives off the successes of those who would have passed through her doors.
“I have children who grew up and are now in Australia, Germany, England and across Jamaica, doing well. I have adults who have come into the home and integrated themselves, ensuring that order is maintained and even help with the children, and that is what I love to see.”
The philanthropist revealed that there is nothing else she wishes to do and hopes that those she helps will always make use of the opportunity.
“There are some persons who are ungrateful, and I knew they would be ungrateful even before I assisted them, but though I wish for people not to waste time and resources, I was ordained for this job. Even in my old age, I want to be doing this. If I reach the wheelchair stage, someone will have to push me right on the thrift store step so I can hand out food to the homeless.”
She added: “I want people to see the God in me. I am not capable of all I do, it must be a higher power, and that is what I want people to see. My hope, too, is that when I die, someone with the same zeal will continue this work.”
To contact Friends in Need Safe Home and Thrift Store, call (876) 421-3453 or visit 10 Hargreaves Avenue, Mandeville, Manchester. Have a good story you’d like to share? Email us at email@example.com.