SEATTLE, Washington — Food for the Poor is a Christian relief organization that focuses on providing food and other forms of relief in 17 countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The nonprofit organization has worked in Belize since 1986 to provide support to vulnerable people across the country. In 2020, Food for the Poor delivered essential relief shipments ranging from clothing and food to hygiene and medical supplies as part of its COVID-19 response. The Food for the Poor Belize support system helps approximately 62 communities and 44 schools across Belize by providing essential goods to their on-the-ground partner organization, A Hand to the Needy.
Food for the Poor Belize Focus and Challenges During COVID-19
As nearly 41% of the population in Belize lives below the poverty line, Food for the Poor’s work is needed more than ever. The organization’s Gifts-In-Kind Director Javier Ramirez informed The Borgen Project that “[A Hand to the Needy] is impacting close to about maybe 3,100 families overall in these communities” in Belize while visiting families in 62 villages “on a three-week rotation.”
Developing a plan to reach children who may suffer from food insecurity has also been a major focus for the organization given the success of its school meal program prior to COVID-19. As schools in Belize remain closed, Food for the Poor has delivered donation shipments to Belize communities through partnerships with A Hand to the Needy and the Roman Catholic Church of Belize.
Ramirez noted that the organization gave 33 shipments over 2020 as “the biggest struggle that our beneficiaries or our partners have is reaching to those southern areas because of the terrain,” which can result in a 440-mile drive across Belize. The Belize Poultry Association also co-sponsored a Backyard Poultry Project with funding from Australian Aid to protect chickens and other birds by securing them in farm coops in South Belize villages since August 2020 as a way to support Belize.
Other COVID-19 Relief Programs in Belize
The Belize House of Representatives approved a $10 million loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development in July 2020 to help the Belizean government continue a COVID-19 Food Assistance Program that provides food, cleaning and hygiene supplies to vulnerable areas of Belize for six months. In addition, the Government of Belize introduced a COVID-19 Cash Transfer Program on December 15, 2020 in order for beneficiaries to receive assistance ranging from $150 to $600 per month for essential supplies. The program was initiated by the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs through a partnership with the National Bank of Belize. Upon introducing the application, an estimated 18,000 vulnerable Belizean households are expected to receive social assistance from the Belizean Government with World Bank funds for six months.
Ramirez informed The Borgen Project that the cash transfer program “would just complement our work and would give a greater chance to those that have been affected in order to be able to come out of this situation.” Regarding agriculture relief, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Belize started a Cash Transfer Program for Farmers in late October 2020 through distributing ATM debit cards for registered farmers in several Belizean districts including Corozal and Cayo, Belize.
Food for the Poor Public Relations Director Kathy Skipper told The Borgen Project that the organization will continue to focus on poverty alleviation as its 39th anniversary on February 12, 2021. The impact of Hurricane Eta and Iota in Belize, which caused damage and floods, made Food for the Poor’s response necessary in two ways during the second half of 2020. Ramirez explained to The Borgen Project that the organization attempted to assess what support will be needed to respond to Hurricane Eta and Iota with priorities to keep people safe and provide them with food after the impact of the hurricane in Belize.
Following the impact of Hurricane Eta in Central America, Food for the Poor and other non-profit organizations began collections to send supply containers to hurricane-impacted countries including Belize starting on November 15, 2020. In response to COVID-19, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is distributing approximately 94,975 COVID-19 Antigen Tests for Belize labs in 2021.
A Look Forward
Through the help of two partner organizations, Food for the Poor has been able to expand donations across Belize despite COVID-19 and Hurricane related challenges. As Ramirez explained how Belize relies on imports for in-kind support, Food for the Poor continues to distribute supplies in 17 countries around Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021. Ramirez told The Borgen Project that “we’re really pivoting into development work,” as the organization wants “to focus on really deepening relationships with our in-country partners to really bring true solutions to poverty.” With the help of Roman Catholic Church parishes and missions in Belize, Ramirez hopes to intervene in Toledo and Cayo, Belize while expanding supply shipments to work towards community self-sustainability.
– Evan Winslow