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Church launches cheap food initiative

Bishop Vernon Lambe (Photo by Akil Simmons)

Helping agencies have applauded a creative scheme devised by a local church to offer families discounts on their groceries.

The initiative launched by the First Church of God brings in shipping containers of discounted food from a United States supplier to locals signed up to the programme — the numbers are now approaching 600.

Officials at Family Centre, the Salvation Army and the Coalition for the Protection of Children praised the endeavour as a lifeline for residents hit by high food prices.

Bishop Vernon Lambe told Bernews that the programme, open to the greater community, was not intended to compete with existing suppliers, but to alleviate the burden during times that were “hard for so many”.

“We are not in business,” he said. “We are a church.”

Grocery prices, which suppliers have struggled to contain, have been a longstanding concern since the economic downturn.

Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre, stressed that she was not party to the issues affecting importers and supermarkets, but added: “It’s unfortunate that it surprises people that this is needed, not just for those who are on low incomes. This high-cost economy is causing many people to look for discounts wherever they can, including middle-income people.

“I also know a lot of people in higher income brackets who are heartbroken about people struggling.”

Although she welcomed anything that would boost average incomes, Ms Dismont said the island must prioritise lowering costs.

“I wish that sustainable development was still as strong here as it used to be,” she said.

She spoke with Bishop Lambe about the initiative not long before Christmas. She added: “He has said it’s growing — they may need help with it.”

While bringing in containers of discount food would not fit with the Family Centre’s remit, the charity has “absolutely” referred clients in need to this and other services, she said.

At present, the church offers a variety of prices on different packages ranging from $36 to $55, and aimed at providing weeks of food. Offerings are to change each month, with those interested paying for the packages up front and collecting them from the North Shore church.

Major Frank Pittman, divisional commander of The Salvation Army, said the service would be valuable “not just to struggling families, but to anybody — it’s very, very beneficial”.

“I heard about it several months ago and passed the information on to the officers under my supervision here. In my thinking, it was a one-off leading into Christmas. It looks like it was a success.”

With the Salvation Army confronting mounting bills of its own, the First Church of God’s scheme “might be something we should seriously consider”, Major Pittman added.

“We have to purchase a lot for our food banks. We get very little donated food, so a lot of what we give, we have to buy. We get little discount on it. That costs us a lot of money.”

Meanwhile, Kelly Hunt, executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said the church’s programme had proved a winner with the charity’s clients.

“They love it; it’s something we use in conjunction with our individual service lines,” she said.

While the Coalition’s ultimate goal is “self sufficiency for our clients”, Ms Hunt said the helping agencies teamed together to ensure that needs were met.

The group had looked into its own importation scheme, but “at the end of the day, there were storage issues with our day-to-day operations”.

“That’s why we have collaboration,” Ms Hunt said. “There’s a substantial amount of food there; our clients are very happy with it. We find that a lot of the agencies involved with helping people are churches.”