The Zero Hunger Trust Fund is being used to give food vouchers to 322 elderly persons and to provide school meals to 1,500 students.
That’s according to an update Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves presented to the media last week.
The fund is capitalised primarily from a tax on cellphone calls but has received support from businesses, including One St. Vincent Group, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves who donates one month of his salary every year, friendly governments and NGOs, including Dubai Cares
“The school year begins with the trust fund in excellent shape,” the finance minister said.
He said the Golden Years Nutrition Support Programme assists elderly persons who require some “nutrition security”.
“They may be getting difficulty getting all they need nutritionally, for one reason or another.”
The finance minister said that the programme began in 2016 with boxes of groceries being given quarterly to 300 people in SVG.
The value of the box hovered around EC$200 and included basic dry goods and cleaning items, with fruits and vegetable being added later.
However, the act of populating the box had a cost in and of itself, Gonsalves said.
“And I thought that it might be better if we saved that cost and passed that money on to the people themselves who were in need.”
Therefore, the programme has moved from a $200 box of grocery to a $300 voucher redeemable at a number of local supermarkets.
The number of beneficiaries has moved from 300 to 322.
“So that is over $375,000 a year that we are providing to these elderly persons.”
He said the recipients got vouchers in May, will receive another around independence (Oct. 27), then another around Christmas.
The fund is training 45 young persons: 17 in computer repairs, 15 in graphic design, and 13 in cosmetology.
“We have trained 177 people so far in the Zero Hunger Trust Fund. In food preparation, bartending, culinary arts, auto mechanics, computer repairs, graphic design, electrical wiring, plumbing, basic refrigeration.”
He said that after training the persons, the fund places them with employers and pays the first six months of their salary.
“And the hope is after they have been working that the employer will see their benefit now they will be experienced and they would be taken on as full-time [workers],” Gonsalves told the media.
“I don’t have the data here as to how many people have been taken on full-time, but I know, anecdotally, that quite a number of people have been. So we have gone from the 322 elderly people to 177 young people.”
He said the fund also includes an adopt-a-classroom programme under which 12 primary schools are funded, namely Rose Hall Government, Barrouallie Anglican, Clare Valley Gov’t, Calliaqua Anglican, Lauders Primary, Fancy Government, Chateaubelair Methodist, Barrouallie Government, Gomea Methodist, Fair Hall Primary, Sandy Bay Government, Mayreau Government.
He said the children in those classrooms that have been adopted get all their books paid for by the Zero Hunger Trust Fund and a cash donation of EC$350 to buy uniforms and bags.
“And they get vision testing,” he said, adding that 57 of the students who were tested were found to need glasses.
“These are children who are in the classroom and are having difficulties and maybe not knowing why,” Gonsalves further said, adding that the fund is purchasing glasses for these students.
Gonsalves said the fund is paying for the school feeding programme in the school where the Adopt-a-School programme is being run.
“And all of the children at the schools can eat for free at the school feeding programme,” he said, adding that just over 1,500 of 2,100 children that were taking advantage of the school feeding programme are being fed by the fund.
The finance minister said the fund is also rehabilitating the kitchens in 10 schools, namely Park Hill Government, Pamenos Burke Primary, Stubbs Primary, Biabou Methodist, Kingstown Prep, Cane End Government, Lodge Village Government, Questelles Primary, Lowmans Leeward Anglican and Fitz Hughes Primary.
He said some of the upgrades have already taken place at other schools, including the construction of lunch rooms, while others involved procuring new pots and pans, fridges.
“It’s tremendous work. They have recruited and trained nutritionists, they have recruited and trained and paid for teachers to improve basic literacy and numeracy at those schools as well. And I wanted to highlight, if only in a cursory manner, some of the wonderful work that is being done by the Zero Hunger Trust Fund,” Gonsalves said.