Not all heroes wear a cape. That’s evident in the groundswell of support to help the community in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
It’s Caymankind in action and as needs grow, so does the response.
Much of the effort focuses on addressing food supply – providing meals, groceries and other essentials to those who need it most.
“The number of residents who have no food, little to no income, and no family was already significant,” said Tara Nielsen of the non-profit Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). “Once the effects of COVID-19 became a reality here in Cayman, it was obvious that the number of people who were food insecure would swell monumentally.”
ARK swung into action, partnering with local businesses, donors and an army of volunteers to ramp up its ‘Feed Cayman’ programme.
ARK linked up with restaurant group NM Ventures, which owns Deckers, Abacus and KARoo restaurants, to create a central soup kitchen at Deckers. Foster’s supermarket chain chipped in by sponsoring the overheads for three months.
Along with hearty soups produced at the kitchen, ARK delivers frozen meals prepared by community volunteers through its ‘Curfew Chefs’ initiative – volunteers who cook fresh meals in their own homes and deliver them to the drive-through drop-off at Deckers. The meals are then stored in the restaurant’s commercial freezer.
The Wharf and Grand Old House have been providing daily hot meals to ARK, and other charities, as well as to struggling tourism industry workers, through its ‘Supporting Each Other’ campaign. It has been preparing and donating more than 500 meals a week.
ARK was initially delivering around 2,000 meals from its soup kitchen six days a week, increasing those numbers to nearly 4,000 meals within a few weeks.
Nielsen said the charity has been flooded with requests for help, along with numerous messages from volunteers wanting to assist.
“The response has been magnificent,” she said. “We have an all-star team working on this monumental task six days a week.”
In this together
Among others lending a helping hand is RE/MAX Cayman Islands, which launched its ‘In this Together’ campaign at the end of March to support the most vulnerable in
It has donated an initial $25,000, with 100% of the funds going directly to local charities. All RE/MAX agents have committed to donating a percentage of their commissions to raise an additional $25,000 for the cause, to boost the overall total to $50,000.
“The response to our ‘In this Together’ campaign has been overwhelming so far,” said Kim Lund, RE/MAX owner/broker. “In less than a month, we’ve received almost 10,000 post engagements on Facebook alone.”
ARK is among the many charities the campaign supports. Feed Our Future, Meals on Wheels, the Pines Retirement Home, Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, the Cayman Islands Humane Society, and the Alex Panton Foundation are among the others.
Real estate company Engel and Völkers is encouraging donations through its #onelovecayman online charity drive that supports more than a dozen local non-profits. To donate, people can log on to its website, click the #onelovecayman link and select the charity of their choice.
Jennifer West, general manager of Meals on Wheels, appreciates the support to help the non-profit continue to deliver hots meals to seniors, homebound and other vulnerable persons.
“The community response has been amazing,” she said. “Before we could even implement our COVID-19 contingency plan we had companies and individuals reaching out to ask how they could help. We have had canned goods, fresh produce and financial contributions donated.”
Meals on Wheels is delivering around 350 meals a day across the districts. Before the pandemic, that number was around 260 meals daily.
“We continue to receive referrals and add seniors on a daily basis,” said West. “The real heroes behind the work of Meals on Wheels are the small team of two full-time and one part-time staff, and 30 volunteers who deliver to each home.”
The Cayman Food Bank is partnering with Meals on Wheels, ARK and other non-profits to assist during the pandemic.
It has a central food bank in Industrial Park, along with food pantries serving families in need across all districts.
“The demand for services of the Cayman Food Bank has almost quadrupled since the pandemic began,” said Phillip Hyre, operations manager. “Unemployment was the main contributing factor to the sudden increase in demand.”
Around 30 volunteers manage the food donations, help with deliveries and distribute to various charities as needed. Hyre said the community response has been tremendous, with many groups and individuals pitching in.
“Recipients were also overjoyed to see the friendly faces of the volunteers. (They) felt a sense of hope in this difficult period,” he said.
Cayman Finance has been an enormous boost to the group, raising $124,000 through its
‘Cayman Finance Cares’ programme, an initiative funded by its member firms.
Hyre said the donation will go a long way to assist the Food Bank’s operations, including its efforts to alleviate child hunger and malnutrition.
One urgent need is a fit-for-purpose van for collections and deliveries, and part of the funding will go toward the purchase of a new vehicle.
Cayman Finance is liaising with its members across the financial services industry to launch other initiatives to assist where needs are greatest.
Masks and more
Along with food supply, individuals, organisations and the business community have been helping in other ways.
The Cayman Islands Red Cross mobilised volunteers to produce protective face masks to ensure essential workers have an adequate supply. Among the many volunteers signing up were employees in the upholstery department at Harbour House Marina.
Anesa Miller Goodall and Jhon Mora of Kitesurf Cayman also repurposed their sewing machines – normally used for kitesurfing repairs – to make masks for the community. Local tailor Larry Maxwell is producing masks for frontline workers, and, for the general public, masks with a designer twist.
Other assistance is still coming in with Davenport Development donating 7,000 masks to the HSA and Buy Smart donating 10,000 masks for frontline workers. Buy Smart is also donating $2 from every purchase of a 20-mask pack to Meals on Wheels and Feed our Future.
Cayman’s animal welfare groups continue their work, stepping up to assist those needing help. Canine Friends Cayman, for example, is partnering with ARK and the Cayman Food Bank to supply bags of pet food. People are also helping through fostering and donations to cover such items as pet food and vet bills.
Virtual trivia nights and online concerts and classes are also raising funds to assist, with other good acts – such as assisting the group of Nicaraguans left stranded when their repatriation flight was cancelled – fuelling Caymankind.
The effort is ongoing, and appeals continue for support.
“We appreciate this is going to be a long road, and the numbers will increase still, so we sincerely hope that people will continue to donate so we can keep on producing meals and serving the struggling,” said Nielsen.
“It will take a nation to support and carry this vital initiative through the dark days ahead.”
How to help
Acts of Random Kindness (ARK)
Bank: Butterfield Bank
Account name: Cayman’s ARK
Account number: 01201039292 (USD)
OR 02201039292 (KYD)
You can also donate while you shop at Foster’s.
RE/MAX ‘In this Together’
Engel and Völkers ‘#onelovecayman’
Other ways to help
Other organisations not listed above can highlight their Caymankind work on the Cayman Compass Facebook page.