Teen sacrifices, creates charity to feed the homeless

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, December 24, 2012

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THE average Jamaican 18-year-old is likely to be busy going to seasonal parties and shopping for clothes, but not Jordan Bennett.

This young man has hit the streets of Kingston with over 200 volunteers in a bid to make this Christmas a tad merrier for the less fortunate.

Bennett is the founder of a non-profit organisation known as Feeding of the 5000. The Northern Caribbean University (NCU) second-year student started the programme in April with the ultimate aim of feeding 5,000 destitute Jamaicans by March 2013.

"Feeding of the 5000 is a way for me to give back, and not just me, but for others to do so, because a lot of people want to give back but just don't know how to start, because it is a lot of work," Bennett explained to the Jamaica Observer Saturday as he prepped his team of volunteers for a massive pre-Christmas food distribution effort on Sunday.

"The team has been divided into groups which will be going into different communities," he explained. "It is not just about driving to the location and giving out a box food. Persons have to go into homes and socialise, talk to persons and make them feel that someone out there cares," he said.

"While there are (needy) persons on the streets, we also recognise that a lot of people are suffering in their own homes. A lot of people who just don't have it and I want them to know that there are people out there who care. I don't have it like that, but I do care for them, even though I may not know them. Feeding is just one part, but love is the most important. When you go into their homes it gives them a sense of hope, so persons are not just there to deliver the food and walk away but to socialise."

'It is something that requires passion, because if you don't have the passion for it, it just won't make sense. For me, doing it and going to school is very hard. The only thing keeping me is passion, and I love it, so I don't mind the extra work."

When he first started the charity, he willingly sacrificed his customary May 9 birthday party and instead used the money that would have gone into party planning to pay for a feast for 250 homeless people.

"I always have a big party with lots of presents, but I told them (his family) I wanted none of that," the teen told the Observer. "I told them to give me whatever they were giving me in cash and I put it back into feeding persons. It was the same for my Christmas, and it will probably be like that for a number of years to come," he said with a wide smile. "I mean, some of the stuff I would be getting I don't really need. Some things you may use for a couple of weeks and then put it aside. So I figure it (the money) could be put to better use."

Bennett's passion for helping people in need blossomed when he was younger as he and his parents drove past a number of homeless persons on the streets of the Corporate Area.

"I always wonder where they sleep and how they eat," he said. "If I don't eat for like a hour or two I feel like I'm dying, and a lot of people out there don't eat for days. I know it's not typical for a teenager, but I like it and I try my best to encourage a lot of youth into helping and I realise it's been working and I am happy about that. It's not about me and it's not a competition thing so the more people come on board the more people we can reach."

But helping people in dire straits is not new to Bennett, who, at age 17, while still a student at Kingsway High School, sold sweets and donated $20,000 from his earnings to a student who could not afford to graduate.

"I used to sell it a little expensive, but it was for a worthy cause," he laughed. "And so I was able to help her with her graduation fee," the selfless teen said with a smile.

Bennett said many persons believed he came from a monied family, but this is not the case. He has just been enterprising and saved up to do his good deeds. In fact, it was the $10,000 per week earned from selling the sweets which allowed him to put aside seed money to start Feeding of the 5000.

"If I had started it (selling sweets) earlier I would be rich now," he laughed. "I also buy these shirts," he said, indicating the sleeveless T-shirt he was wearing with the 'Feeding of the 5000' logo printed on the front and the charity's Twitter handle and Facebook link information on the back.

Twenty per cent of the donations for yesterday's feeding effort came from sponsors, the other 80 per cent came from Bennett and the volunteers, including the charity's project manager Dwayne Carridice, a third-year student at NCU; Feeding the 5000's secretary, Danielle Harris, also a third-year at NCU; and Omar Bourne, its operations manager.

Bennett said even when he reaches his target of feeding 5000 needy persons, he has no intention of stopping. He is considering whether to do the food distribution annually or bi-annually.

He said his compassion is probably something he inherited from his grandmother, who would take persons into her home after meeting them only a week earlier.

"I have heard my dad say a lot of times that he would come home and he had no dinner because she gave it away," Bennett said. "He got used to it after awhile and he realised what she was doing so he was alright with it, and I guess that is where I got it from."





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