... says Buff Bay pastor
BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor — Special Assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
Significantly more people are turning up at the Buff Bay Independent Baptist Church in Portland for assistance as high unemployment and the harsh economic times are making it difficult for them to pay bills and feed their families.
But given that the congregants are faced with similar financial constraints, Reverend Vernon Allen said the church has had to resort to staging even more fund-raisers in a bid to help. This, however, is still not enough to meet the ever-growing needs.
"I have noticed that within the last three years the needs have become more apparent. Some persons who I have known for years, and they have never come to seek help are coming now, so I know the needs are genuine," Allen told the Jamaica Observer North East. "Some people have their pride, but when you see them coming you know it is out of desperation why they have to come because normally they would not do it," he said.
According to Allen, a lot of persons are challenged in finding even the most basic things such as money to send their children to school and to buy food.
"They are saying we are not asking for money, but we are just asking for some groceries," Allen said as he lamented the pain he feels in seeing how badly people are hurting.
With no factories or mass employers in the area, Allen said persons have been struggling to make a living.
The coffee industry, which once employed scores of persons, is on the decline and smallscale subsistence farming is done mainly in the communities on the outskirts of the town, leaving many without any form of steady employment.
Given the increased needs of such persons, Allen said the church has been gradually increasing its annual budget for benevolence support, in some cases as much as 100 per cent.
"For example, usually we just cater to about 15 shut-ins and a few others at Christmas time, but last year we had to increase that by 100 per cent and we still wanted to do more but just couldn't afford it," Allen said.
He explained that the church would normally stage only one major fund-raising rally each year, but has had to do even more to meet the growing needs.
"We usually try to minimise fund-raising because the church in general has been accused over the years of only being interested in people's money, and we have tried hard not to be seen like that, but as we reach out to the community we have had to embark on more fund-raising to meet the needs and still we just can't meet all of them," he said.
Allen reiterated that the needs are genuine as he pointed out that there are persons who have not been able to find permanent employment for years.
"I have known folks who have been out of employment for 15 years and only occasionally they get a day's work here or there, so you can imagine that they are living worse than hand to mouth," he said.
Living accommodations, he noted, have been equally hard to come by and as such the church has also had to be helping in what ways it can to put a roof over the heads of persons.
These beneficiaries, Allen said, were usually living in deplorable conditions with young children.
"Sometimes it is not in our budget, but the need is there so you just have to cut into it and take something from another area," he said, adding that "as a church, a part of the responsibility is to care for people's needs, because if you are not present in their needs they don't really want you in their lives."
Meanwhile, Allen said the Buff Bay community has been better off for having churches like his and others in its midst as these institutions continue to meet not only the spiritual, but the social and health needs of the residents.
However, with the intensity of these needs, Allen said sometimes there is a perception that the church is not doing all it needs to do. This, though, is not so.
Pointing to some of the other ways it helps the community, Allen said the Buff Bay Baptist Church donates medication, small instruments and care packages to patients at the Annotto Bay Hospital about six or seven times a year.
In addition, the pastor said, the church provides medical care to hundreds of residents each year.
"For several years now we have had a doctor from overseas who goes to the six communities where we have our churches and sees an average of 500 patients each year, over a five-day period," he said.
In the last three years, the church has also brought several dentists from overseas to offer services to hundreds of persons who would never be able to afford dental services.
"The first year we did it we didn't realise there was such a great need, but people came from all over and we bussed them in from the different communities and we had to turn back a lot of people because they (the dentists) could do so much and no more," he told the Observer North East.
He said the fact that people have to travel from as far as communities like Bybrook to Buff Bay and Annotto Bay to seek medical treatment has caused many of them not to seek medical attention.
"They don't have the money to come down, so many times they are ill and they stay home and do home remedies, especially the older ones," he said, adding that a lot of persons were diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure during the medical mission, as they just do not have the wherewithal to take care of themselves.