~ First recipients already identified, wider registration not yet open ~
SIMPSON BAY—Red Cross launched last Friday a three-month voucher program to provide low-income residents with funds to purchase their groceries. Red Cross will distribute the first of six, bi-weekly grants to households that have been pre-identified as having high need for support.
The Dutch Ministry of Interior Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK is providing the means to support this pilot project, one of the various assistance programs designed to help low-income people living on St. Maarten, Aruba and Curacao to cope with the economic and social fallout from the pandemic. BZK granted 16 million euros to the Netherlands Red Cross that will be shared across the three islands based on population.
The implementation of the grant will be done in collaboration with other NGOs. Red Cross met with other organizations last and this week to plan for future support. “We will work together closely as NGOs and government to provide assistance to those in need,” Red Cross St. Maarten Branch Manager Mitchell Horsford said. Among other things, decisions have to be made on how to select future recipients as well as when and how to expand the project to reach a larger group of people.
Red Cross will be providing financial aid through e-vouchers. The e-voucher works as a refillable debit card, that residents can use at participating supermarkets. The humanitarian organization will assist several households with primary needs by providing support as the island and world respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. According to project manager Fernando Suarez-Jimenez: “This way participants will be able to buy the products that better meet their needs, only alcohol and tobacco will not be allowed. On Friday, we started with a pilot group of 142 households”.
The first voucher recipients were chosen from a database of people who had expressed needs during the various Hurricane Irma recovery projects, which had been ongoing since September 2017. These recipients are particularly single-parent households that have little to no income and are not getting help from other organizations.
Red Cross has implemented various COVID-19 response projects including awareness campaigns: online, in print and on radio and food support to the homeless. Red Cross volunteers distributed flyers on hand washing and hygiene, assisted government with food packaging and delivery, the shuttle services for the elderly and led Facebook Live events to help inform the island about the pandemic and things residents can do to protect themselves and their families.
Together with other organizations, Red Cross plans to inform the community on developments through print media and online in the coming weeks on the further assistance program.