Before the COVID-19 crisis hit Cayman’s tourism sector, Lisha and Tom Watling made their living operating Cayman Kayaks.
With lockdown measures in March, however, came the immediate end to their tourism business. While the closure of Cayman Kayaks meant loss of income, what has come in the company’s wake has been a gift for the couple.
“The past six months has been the greatest blessing for us,” said Lisha, speaking from a George Town warehouse that has come to store the fruits of the couple’s grassroots initiative to keep the island’s families clothed and cared for throughout the crisis.
Their charitable initiative, BLESSED, evolved organically from the couple’s work with Cayman’s Acts of Random Kindness.
After months of delivering meals through ARK to residents in East End, Lisha realised an additional need facing families. More than just food, families with children also needed items such as clothes and shoes.
When an expectant mother in East End mentioned she needed a baby stroller, Lisha reached out to the community – and responses from potential donors came flooding in.
“It was overwhelming. I put out one message. I had 54 independent, private messages back,” she said. “The messages have just kept coming through and I thought, ‘OK, how do I say no?’”
The couple hopped into their van in North Side and began making rounds to collect children’s items from all over the island.
At the end of the day, their van was full – and so was their studio.
After organising and sorting the goods, then came the second wave of responses.
“We put a message out and the messages flooded in of needs, endless needs,” she said.
They quickly realised they had created a system to connect the island’s families for mutual benefit. Those with old, gently-used items would benefit from decluttering their homes and passing on the items for good use. Those in need would benefit from the goodwill of the community.
“When you bless others, you are also abundantly blessed,” Lisha said. “So, for the people that are donating, they’re being blessed as well.”
Now, the operation has expanded into donated warehouse space, where clothes and shoes are organised by size into storage tubs.
“It takes hours just to go through it and organise it, so that when I’m now ready with my list of names I need to donate to, I can just grab [the items],” she said.
When families in need reach out, Lisha strives to create a personalised bag for each child and mother (the charity also donates clothes to men but in a more limited capacity). The idea is to meet immediate needs for families, but also to make them feel recognised and cared for.
Using donated paper shopping bags from Caribbean Creations, Lisha said she wants each delivery to feel special.
“I wanted to deliver something to their homes where they felt happy,” she said. “It’s like you went shopping.”
So far, the couple has donated 250 bags of items, each hand-delivered by them to the recipients. Meanwhile, with their source of income shut down, the Watlings have been living on their savings, though some people have taken them out to dinner as a gesture of gratitude for their work.
She recommended that, when individuals reach out, they identify the gender and age of the child, clothing size and location of the potential recipient. From there, BLESSED will assess its stock and if the organisation is able to assist.
The initiative, which has partnered with ARK, is to the point where Lisha hopes to take on volunteers to help sort items.
While BLESSED is not able to accept cash contributions, the charity can accept donated items and, soon, donated time.
The best way to contact BLESSED is through the group’s Facebook page or by contacting Lisha Watling at 925-9867.