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Free Food Bermuda spreads festive cheer

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Six months ago Kerry's life seemed to be falling into place.

She had a steady job, a supportive family and was making ends meet. She was also proud that her three-year-old son had something she never had — a loving father.

Then her world came crashing down.

Her son's dad went in for routine outpatient hernia surgery in the UK on May 28 — and never woke up.

“He left Bermuda just before Christmas last year to get the ball rolling on the procedure,” Kerry said. “He didn't have health insurance on the Island and figured it would be free to get it done out there.

“At first they had postponed it, but on this last time they actually decided to move it forward. Unfortunately he didn't wake up from that. They are investigating what went wrong out there. He was only 28 years old.”

The 25-year-old has since had a hard time emotionally and financially.

“To have a child in this world and to have a father figure in his life, it was amazing,” she said.

“Even when his father was away he would call every day to wish him a good day at school. He would be at every event at school when he was here. It was everything I'd ever wanted for my son.”

Kerry's biological parents weren't her ideal. Her mother had a drug problem; her dad suffered from a mental illness. “My sister and I were adopted by a woman with two biological children. I grew up admiring my adopted mom for her strength,” she said.

“She's 67 now, and was up there in age when she took us in. When it came my turn to become a parent I looked at her example. What I wanted most was to give my son a good dad, so then for him to not make it out of that surgery, it really broke me.”

She had no idea how she would find the cash to pay for a tree, turkey and toys for her son this holiday. Free Food Bermuda came to her rescue.

Nesi Armstrong set up the popular Facebook group two years ago to connect people with extra food with those who need it most.

Members provide needy families with a Christmas food hamper to make the holiday season brighter.

“I heard people talking about Free Food Bermuda, but I've never been able to say ‘Hi, I need help',” Kerry said.

“The group would post specials on food items, discount prices and coupons and when I saw she was doing a Christmas hamper I decided to nominate myself.

“I work hard. I've always worked hard and oftentimes have more than one job. Right now I'm working part-time as a sales associate but without my son's father around I've had to fill the gap. The rest of my family will be going on a cruise this year, but I couldn't afford it so I decided to take a back seat.

“I was struggling to pay rent, groceries, expenses for my son and all the bills that came in. It all seemed to come crashing down on me.

“One day you have debt collectors calling saying ‘Can you pay on your bills?'. You think, ‘How can I still have Christmas if I have to pay bills and also pay for nursery?' It started to weigh on me because I've never had to go without a tree or Christmas dinner. I fell into a bit of depression.”

Kerry's holiday will be fully sponsored by Masterkey Management, run by Sharika Tucci.

She'll get a turkey, Christmas toys and a gift certificate for her own personal pampering.

She said it felt “wonderful” to know there were still kind-hearted people in the world.

“There are a lot of good people out there. Sometimes you just have to put your pride aside and ask for help and that's been my biggest problem — not being willing to put myself out there and share what's going on and ask for help,” she said. “I've been through a lot, but I've never been willing to express my feelings and I think that's what has held me back in life a little bit. I never wanted to feel like a charity case and always hid my feelings because I didn't want it to be like ‘Oh, poor girl'. I told myself ‘This is the hand I've been dealt and I'll find a way to deal with it'. I learnt that from my mom — when you fall, you get back up. But this Christmas it was something different for me. I felt helpless.

“My advice to anyone struggling is don't be afraid to ask for support.”

Helping hand: from left, sponsors of Free Food Bermuda, Jeff Sousa and Sharika Tucci, with the charity's founder, Nesi Armstrong. The group gave 30 families food hampers last Christmas Eve and will help 12 needy families this year (Photograph supplied)
Giving back: Nesi Armstrong, the founder of Free Food Bermuda, and the charity's web administrator, Don Burgess, prepare for their annual 12 days of Christmas giveaway. One of the recipients is a single mom whose son's father died unexpectedly this year (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Spirit of the holidays: Nesi Armstrong, the organiser of Free Food Bermuda, handed out 30 food hampers to needy families last Christmas Eve. She's pictured with five-year-old Kajahlae Fishenden (File photograph)
<p>Help those who are hurting</p>

Deciding which families would benefit from Free Food Bermuda’s annual holiday food hamper scheme was tough work.

The charity’s founder, Nesi Armstrong, described it as “heart-wrenching”.

“It was really hard because these people were hurting and there was so much they were going through,” she said. “There were 60 full families that contacted us — some of those had three or four children and we could only pick 12.

“I posted about the food baskets on Free Food Bermuda and asked people to nominate a worthy family. I had no idea what would come about from this, but there was so much need.”

Sponsors have donated Christmas trees and canned goods. The charity is still in need of toys, Ms Armstrong said.

“We have five families with five children apiece. There are 40 children in total that we are trying to help from age four months to 16.”

Sponsors are invited to attend the December 23rd giveaway at 11am at Cobbs Hill Church in Warwick.

Find out more on Facebook: Free Food Bermuda, or call 516-7130.

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Published December 16, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated December 16, 2015 at 12:54 am)

Free Food Bermuda spreads festive cheer

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