Tortuga Rum Company set up a mobile drink station for those waiting outside the NAU office.

Like most working on the frontlines, it’s been challenging keeping up with demand.

That’s been the case at the Needs Assessment Unit, a government agency that assists vulnerable Caymanians in the community, such as the elderly, disabled and unemployed.

The agency has seen a surge in requests since the closure of Cayman’s borders in March as a result of COVID-19, and the subsequent collapse of the tourism industry.

“The NAU team continues to go above and beyond to meet this increased demand for services, working late into the night, weekends and through the entire Easter holiday period,” said Joan West-Dacres, Deputy Chief Officer in the Ministry of Community Affairs, which is responsible for NAU.

As of mid-May, the agency was assisting more than 2,000 families, receiving around 400 new applications. And the numbers continue to climb.

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“The new applications include requests primarily for food, rental and utility assistance,” said West-Dacres.

At a press briefing held mid-April, Premier Alden McLaughlin noted 957 families had been assisted with food vouchers alone, representing a 165% jump since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Prior to the coronavirus crisis, assistance was provided to 361 families.

Along with helping Caymanians, food vouchers are being provided for work-permit holders in need, as part of the humanitarian outreach to people temporarily stranded in the territory.

The NAU has 31 full-time employees, including three in Cayman Brac. Eleven employees have been redeployed from other government departments to work on-site to assist with the increase in demand along with two new temporary staff. Five dedicated full-time employees from another department are manning the agency’s additional phone lines.

West-Dacres said the NAU is receiving great support from the business community and other agencies, including the RCIPS, CI Customs and Border Control, Home Gas, Flowers Group, Dart, AI Rentals and Tortuga Rum Company.

“The support of the officers, tents, beverages and snacks has gone a long way to help alleviate much of the worry and stress people are experiencing, especially while waiting outside our office,” said West-Dacres.

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