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Social Services partners with Ministry of Agriculture to expand food voucher assistance programme

l-r) Mr. Huey Sargeant, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture; Mrs. Shelissa Martin Clarke, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development; Hon. Eric Evelyn, Deputy Premier of Nevis and Minister of Agriculture; Ms. Orlene Herbert, Social Assistance Officer; Mrs. Sandra Maynard, Director of Social Services; and Mr. Randy Elliott, Director in the Department of Agriculture at the launch of the retailored Social Services Agricultural Products Food Voucher Program on July 21, 2023

NIA CHARLESTOWN NEVIS (July 25, 2023)- The Department of Social Services in the Nevis Island Administration (NIA) has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture to enhance and expand the Department’s food voucher assistance programme to bring even greater benefit to the persons it serves.

The initiative, which began as a relief program during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been rebranded as the Social Services Agricultural Products Food Voucher Program.

Mrs. Sandra Maynard, Director of Social Services, at the launch of the retailored Social Services Agricultural Products Food Voucher Program on July 21, 2023

During a ceremony to mark the occasion on July 21, the Director of Social Services, Mrs. Sandra Maynard, explained that the programme has been retooled to include community-based farmers and agricultural agencies as part of the network from which persons on the program are able to purchase food items.

“The aim of the program is to assist families, promoting local produce, strengthening collaborations, fostering healthier food consumption. We see as our collaborating partners the Department of Agriculture, the Abattoir, the Larinson Parry Depot, and the Fisheries, and thus far for this program we have made arrangements with eight local community-based vendors and food providers.

“This retailored food voucher initiative will eventually see as much as 75 percent of the Department’s food vouchers no longer written to just the major grocery outlets as we have done over the years on Nevis, but split between the supermarkets and the Agriculture Department food sale outlets as well as community-based local farmers and owners of vendor stalls.”

Mrs. Shelissa Martin Clarke, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, said the program has been a transformative force in encouraging and fostering healthier food consumption among participants in the program. Reformulating the voucher system has had a multiplier effect, she pointed out, not only benefiting recipients but local food producers as well.

“When the Department embarked on this journey their goal was not just to provide assistance to vulnerable families and individuals in need, but also to promote local agriculture, strengthen partnerships and encourage healthier food consumption habits. I am delighted to say we have achieved remarkable success on all these fronts. I am told that the program has now expanded and the Department is expected to spend approximately $40,000 by the end of this year with local vendors, the Agriculture Department and community-based vendors.

“One of the cornerstones of this program is the emphasis on promoting local produce by providing food vouchers that can be redeemed for fresh locally grown fruits, vegetables and other agricultural products. Furthermore, the most significant achievement of this program lies in the positive impact it will have on the health and wellbeing of our families by facilitating access to fresh, nutritious and locally sourced food.”

Deputy Premier of Nevis Hon. Eric Evelyn, Minister of Agriculture in the Nevis Island Administration at the launch of the retailored Social Services Agricultural Products Food Voucher Program on July 21, 2023

Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture Hon. Eric Evelyn applauded the “excellent” initiative and commended Mrs. Maynard and her staff for championing Social Services on Nevis. He lauded the collaboration between Social Development and Agriculture, saying he was heartened that the program has evolved into one that local producers can benefit from.

The Department of Social Services will fully roll out the new voucher program in August and intends to incorporate some 30 additional families presently under the Restore Inspire Secure and Empower (RISE) programme. The voucher programme will then run for two years. Beneficiaries of the assistance programme are predominantly single-parent-headed households, persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and families or individuals with low incomes or facing temporary financial difficulties.

Between March 2022 and June 2023, 601 vouchers went to the agricultural community and the Department is projected to add another 198 vouchers between July and October. Another 90 vouchers will be distributed between November and December for RISE families.

The Social Services Director revealed that the Department projects that by the end of 2023 almost 900 of these vouchers would have been distributed.