On recent Wednesday and Saturday mornings, several hundred people have been lining up in the parking lot at the First Assembly of God to find a little relief from the financial impacts of the coronavirus.
Here, the Cayman Food Bank has been distributing staple foods to individuals and families that may not otherwise have enough to eat.
Helping in this effort are students who are part of the social work programme at the University College of the Cayman Islands. The students are getting a close up look at the process of assisting people in need and, at the same time, fulfilling the fieldwork requirements of their studies.
Maureen Brooks, who is the fieldwork education liaison for UCCI’s the social work programme, said students are getting a good look at the role of social work in a crisis. “They are seeing and understanding how to deal with people who may not have been in a situation like this before, who now may be embarrassed, or some even angry, about having to come to look for food,” she said. “It's a good experience for social work students to know how to respond to the different emotions people demonstrate in situations like this.”
Felicia Robinson, director of UCCI’s social work programme said this is the first-time students have done some of their required fieldwork hours at the Cayman Food Bank. Just prior to the restrictions imposed by the government to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Robinson said she had been in talks with the food bank about having students help the organization with client assessments and administrative work. Shortly after the 12 government programmes where students do their fieldwork shut down, the partnership with the food bank was cemented.
The students are helping with some administrative work, but they are also doing the hands-on work of putting together food packages and distributing them to those in need. It has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Marie Eden is director of operations for the Cayman Food Bank. She said she is thrilled to have the UCCI students assisting her team of volunteers during a time of increased demand. “We wouldn’t be able to do this without them,” Eden said. “We went from seeing 100 families a week to 700 and more and it’s growing.”
On one recent Saturday, more than 300 people were given bags of food. Toward the end of the distribution, it looked as if some people might be turned away empty handed, but the volunteers scoured the agency’s pantry and were able to provide some food to everyone in line. Eden said she’s not sure whether that will continue to be possible. “We’re constantly asking for donations,” she said. “The community has been stepping up, but we don’t know how long that will last.”
Robinson said once the crisis is over, she plans to continue to use the Cayman Food Bank as an avenue for her students to get experience. Eden said she welcomes the arrangement. “We have a new database,” she said. “We’re hoping the students can help with registration and input of information.”
One student, Estefanie Barnett, spent her time at a recent Saturday morning distribution, helping to gather information for that database. She was checking in the people standing in line, taking information from passports or drivers licenses and providing vouchers so the recipients could collect their bags of food. Barnett said she helped her parents run a charter company prior to the virus shutdown and understood how so many people have been thrust into needing assistance. Helping at the food bank, she said, “is rewarding, but at the same time humbling.”
Her fellow student, Rochella Moya, said the volunteer experience has been eye opening. “It just shows you that a lot of people out there are in need,” Moya said. “It allows us to see what we would do in a crisis situation. When you talk about it in class it’s completely different.” Dealing directly with those in need, she said, illuminates some of what she’s learned at UCCI. “It brings together empathy, compassion, all these core values we need to have,” she said.
Student Mya Dunkley said the work has made her more confident about the path she is on. “It shows me what it’s like to be in a helping profession,” Dunkley said. “It shows me that this is the area I want to be in.” Director Robinson said her students are getting an experience the programme hasn’t offered before. Their dedication has impressed her. “Some of them have already completed their hours, but they’re still going there to help,” Robinson said.
The experience, she said, brings the principles she teaches into immediate practice. “This is a unique time we are in,” she said. “The students are part of a history making team. We have the chance to show how important social work is.”
If you would like to support the Cayman Food Bank please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 345-926-6111.