Jamaican-born taxi driver gives back to Tryall Heights
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
JAMAICAN-BORN Marcel Smith, a taxi driver in Springfield, Massachusetts, has not allowed the type of job he does to prevent him from giving back to the children of his Tryall Heights, St Catherine community.
Smith, for the second year, earlier this month shipped barrels of supplies to host the treat for scores of children from Tryall Heights and neighbouring communities. Not only were the children presented with back to school supplies but they also enjoyed merry-go-round, bounceabout and trampoline while being treated to refreshments and a talent show.
"This takes me all year to prepare for," Smith told the Jamaica Observer. "I am just a lowly cab driver and so its is a sacrifice for me but we need more people to do things like this," he added.
According to Smith, he solicited donations from fellow Springfield residents and drove for miles to pick up some of these items. He noted, however, that it was only two months ago that he started receiving monetary donations from some persons; however, most of the items were bought from his personal funds.
"Last year, I did it entirely by myself but I want to thank everyone for the donations I got this year because providing the food for the day is the most expensive part of the event," he said.
The plan going forward, he said, is to begin seeking donations for school supplies and personal care items so that even more children can benefit.
Smith told the Observer, following the July 19 staging of the event, that he always wanted to give back to the community, in a major way but only got the opportunity to begin doing so two years ago.
"The concept for doing something like this was always there but it took years before I was brave enough to start it but once I did I found it is even easier than I thought," he said.
"When I was growing up I always saw the foreigners coming and I knew how I felt then as a child and so I wanted to ensure that these children didn't miss out," Smith said.
He stressed that his only motive behind this event is the satisfaction he gets at seeing the appreciation on the faces of the little ones.
"The kids love it, the community loves it and it has given me a personal satisfaction to be able to be there pushing the merry-go-round myself. It's the satisfaction I feel when a little girl won just a simple book and a pencil and she said 'thank you Marcel'."
Smith said he single-handedly pack the barrels each year with the assistance of his 13-year-old daughter Tehnahleah, whom he believes will take over doing the event when he can no longer continue.
"She is the one who goes shopping with me at the stores and tells me what to buy for the kids and help me to pack the barrels," he said.
The father of two said he is not able to put a figure to what it costs to stage the event.
"I never check it up because if I did maybe it would scare me, so it's just knowing that I am making some blessings for my kids. My parents (Lloyd and Veronica Smith) are very good people and so some of the trouble I have got out of I know its because of their blessings," he said .
His partner, Sheryl Sterling, said Smith, who has lived in the US for more than 20 years, was always taking back things to give to adults in the community but later decided he wanted to focus more on the children. He, however, did not know how best to co-ordinate that effort until his father returned to live in Jamaica and made it possible for the event to receive the support of the Tryall Heights Concerned Citizens Association.
"Marcel is a community-based person and since he grew up here he wanted to give back what he didn't have as a youth," she explained.
Meanwhile, Smith explained that he was able to cater to even more children this year as he spent more time planning for the event. As such, while he catered to under 200 children last year there were approximately 280 this year, in addition to a number of adults who attended
There was also a talent component to the day's event as the children were rewarded with tokens just for participating in the various activities.
"Next year we will try to get a permit to block off the square (in front of the community centre) so we can set up tents and be able to have more activities for the kids," he told the Observer, already planning to make the event bigger.
At the inaugural staging of the event, community members painted and cleaned the community centre prior to the fun day.
"This has been a uniting force and this is one reason why I do it because at least for one day there is a lot of unity in the community," Smith said.
For next year's staging Smith and his partner want to incorporate a mini health fair into the fun day because of the great needs they are seeing.
Sterling, a nurse, said she has seen many instances in the community where persons are unable to afford to have regular medical check-ups done.
"We would like to be able to get some persons to volunteer to provide simple health screening because I have seen some people walking around with some ailments but they just can't afford the doctor [fee]," she said.