Frustration and anxiety mar seasonal distribution event
Desperation and anxiety spilled over at a distribution event of food and toys for families in need, with some senior citizens being pushed out of the way as the doors opened.
Hundreds of people lined up, some even before daybreak, to secure a spot at the Salvation Army’s Distribution Day in the Botanical Gardens. But in contrast to more orderly conduct in previous years, this time there were signs of frustration and desperation, with a number of senior citizens being jostled out of the queues when the doors opened.
Salvation Army Divisional Commander Major Shawn Critch, who attended the distribution centre early yesterday morning, described the turn of events as “unfortunate”.
“The Salvation Army is committed to providing both dignity and respect in the delivery of its services to the community,” he said.
“While our approach to the annual Christmas Distribution Day has not changed it is clear from the unfortunate events of today that we will need to review the logistics for future distribution days. I took a few minutes to speak with individuals who were waiting in line and they were able to share their frustration and provide some constructive feedback which I will share during our team debriefing session which will take place in January.”
Department of Parks workers arrived to find scores of people lining up at 7am. By the time the doors opened at 9.30am, hundreds were packed around the doorway to receive food and toys for Christmas.
More than 1,400 families signed up for the annual programme that ultimately served close to 4,000 individuals.
Two Parks employees, who asked not to be named, said the state of mind of the people gathered was the worst they’ve ever seen.
“Some senior citizens who came early were literally pushed aside by the crowd when the doors opened at 9.30am.
“It’s a sign of the times and people are angry, it’s a totally different scene from last year. We saw desperation,” one man said.
“People didn’t even respect their elders and we had a line for the seniors and they blocked them. There were more than 30 people here when I arrived at 7am. I can’t tell you how many people wanted to argue with me about the entrances into Botanical Gardens. And I’ve worked down here from over 20 years.”
His co-worker added: “Some people are saying it’s the Salvation Army that’s not organised but it’s not that, it’s the state of the mind of the people. They’re vexed, they’re frustrated, what little money they do have they have to stretch it and it’s nowhere near enough. And people don’t know how they’re going to eat past Christmas,” he said.
“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen and I’ve been here more than 23 years. And we knew it was coming. We’ve talked about it for days. Things are really bad for my fellow Bermudians. Even with the people who are contributing — they’ve got issues too.
“It’s not about the middle class, there’s really no such thing anymore, it’s the haves and the have nots. What little is left of the middle class has slipped.”
His colleague warned: “Angry people become violent people so to the powers that be, you need to pay attention. When a man can’t eat and feed his family, it’s just a matter of time before things switch up around here. It’s just a matter of time and it’s coming.”
It was clear frustrations were running high by midmorning.
One woman, who asked not to be named, said once the doors opened it was like a “mad rush that was non-stop”.
“I got here before 9am and this is the worst I’ve seen ever. It’s indicative of just how many Bermudians are out of work suffering through unemployment.
“I’ve had a hustle for two days a week looking after a senior citizen, but I haven’t had a full-time job in two years.”
With tempers flaring outside the door and frustrations running high inside, another woman said what she witnessed at the Botanical Gardens this year points up deeper underlying social issues for Bermuda.
“What we’ve seen here today is driven by the fear of not knowing how they’re going to get by or through Christmas with no job in sight.
“It’s going to get worse than this because there are people who cannot or don’t know how they’re going to eat when they’re not going to be working in January.
“They’re getting a big meal for Christmas today but they don’t know where they’re going to get food from. And without a job they’re going to make sure they get down here to get that Christmas meal. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
Others called for better security. Responding to this, Major Critch said better security will be in place for next year.
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