BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
WEST Portland Member of Parliament (MP) Daryl Vaz yesterday launched a storm relief fund for the entire parish and extended an invitation to colleague parliamentarians in neighbouring St Thomas and St Mary to join the effort and widen it to their constituents who suffered damage when Hurricane Sandy hit the island on October 24.
Vaz said that while he is desirous of sharing the Portland Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund's resources with affected persons in the neighbouring parishes, it cannot be done without the collaborative effort of the respective MPs.
"I would have no problem extending the fund to St Thomas and St Mary," Vaz told guests at the launch at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston.
All distribution of items to the affected persons will be made through Food For the Poor, which will work in collaboration with 16 churches in the parish.
As such, Vaz said the initiative is a call to action and a plea for help.
"Not a plea for help solely for Portland, because that would be selfish and irresponsible, but it is not in my place as an MP for Portland to widen my ambit and take on the responsibilities when there are other leaders and MPs, and therefore what I do is call on them to follow suit," he said.
In seeking the support of Corporate Jamaica, Vaz said residents of Portland support their businesses in various forms — from the rum bars to the shops.
He implored the private sector to contribute, as it is clear that the Government cannot foot the storm's climbing $4-5 billion repair bill.
Category One Sandy killed one man, tore off roofs, flattened buildings, wiped out crops, knocked out power and did extensive damage to infrastructure during its south to north-east passage over the island.
Yesterday, Vaz again sought to explain the reason for his controversial request for Portland to be declared a disaster zone.
"My rationale for calling for that is because I believe it can be managed in a way internationally that we can reap the benefits of getting well-needed resources that we do not have as a country at this time, while not affecting the tourism and economic prospects of the country," Vaz said.
Member of the fund, Paula Pinnock-MacLeod expressed pleasure at how quickly it took donors to respond to the call for help.
She announced further that students of Hillel Academy had already collected six barrels of clothes and food for distribution.
Chairman of the fund, Dr Andre Foote, urged persons to rally to this cause as the Government alone cannot do it. He, too, reiterated that this is not a "partisan fund, but a help fund".
He assured donors that all contributions will be handled with the highest level of transparency and probity.
Cash and kind donations, he explained, will be sourced from companies and individuals and all disbursements will be made through Food For the Poor.
At the end of six months, Foote said a detailed report will be presented.
Andrew Mahfood, executive director of Food For the Poor (FFP), said he hopes the fund will increase to incorporate help for the people of St Mary and St Thomas.
"This is a big idea, but it can become a bigger idea... it is very difficult to go to the private sector one time for Portland, one time for St Mary and one time for St Thomas; go to them for the parishes and try to get as much so we can help more people," he said.
Mahfood said FFP's parent company in Florida has committed to match donations in kind to the tune of US$100,000.
Food For the Poor will also facilitate the shipment of items to its Florida offices from the diaspora.
Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said the fund is a worthy effort and expressed satisfaction that it was not partisan in nature.
He, however, requested that the fund pay particular attention to early childhood institutions in the parish, as "little children are easily traumatised and are often forgotten".