June 20, 2021 Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown

Basic Needs: A Container of Love

Basic Needs: A Container of Love

When Cate and Mark Toney were working in Jamaica as Missionaries seven years ago, in 2014, they asked many children what they wanted from the United States of America (USA) for their Christmas presents. “Nine out of ten said toilet paper or detergent, and all said lotion and body wash,” related Cate, who had been surprised that cleaning supplies were at the top of their ‘Christmas lists’. Toys like dollies and footballs did not rank as priorities on said lists. “That moment was when I realised that these kids were in such need and so grateful of things they were given,” Cate revealed.

Everyone has needs, but they have not always had their needs met. This is true across the world and this is true in Jamaica. We Jamaicans do our best to keep our kids safe and provide for our families, but so many simply cannot afford basic items, such as soap. According to Unicef, “Three billion people (in the world) do not have access to hand-washing facilities with soap.” (https://www.unicef.org/wash). Isn’t it in the best interest of all humanity that these basic needs are met?

Hanover Charities, which was created in 1957 by ‘Willy’ Delisser, John Pringle, Lord and Lady Monson, and shareholders of Round Hill Hotel and Tryall, is one such organisation that has been meeting some of the needs of Hanover residents for over sixty years. Cheered on and chaired by the Austrian-born and naturalised Jamaican, Katrin Casserly, Hanover Charities is well-known for the Sugar Cane Ball, which has been held every American President’s Weekend in February for several decades.  This fundraiser contributes the bulk of Hanover Charities’ funds, which have furnished feeding programmes for children and the elderly, supported several projects that provide health services, and delivered financial aid to students through Morris-Watkins Memorial Scholarships. “We have built it into one of the largest charity organisations in Jamaica,” Casserly told me.

One could come up with all kinds of ways to generate so much generosity from donors, but this effort materialises from a charity that asserts transparency and a team that volunteers without pay. “I am a very team-oriented person. One man is no island,” Casserly told me. Indeed, Hanover Charities clearly thrives on the community it has built and seeks to expand. After all, Hanover is only one parish in Jamaica. What would happen if this organisation serendipitously found a big partner, in western Jamaica, with a similar vision?

“The mission of Hanover Charities is, and always has been, to improve the health, welfare, and education of our neighbours in Hanover Parish.”

Enter, stage Zoom, Chairman and CEO of Cornerstone Jamaica, Gary Robinson, whose magnanimous personality and unwavering belief in the betterment of this island has brought him to pick partners who have the same aim as he does for Jamaican children and their communities.  

After the zoom call, we were big friends right away,” gushed Casserly. “I said, Gary, there is this project we have wanted to do for years. We bring in this container, like Red Cross, and we drop it in Lucea. We bring in anything and everything. So much is discarded in the States and wasted. He said he loved it and said, let’s do it.” So, Gary gathered up some key players within his nonprofit organisation, which has been mainly focused on communities in Westmoreland, and the hard work began.

Having officially been with Cornerstone Jamaica since her return to the USA some six years ago, Cate Toney is now Vice-Chairperson of this organisation. She is synchronising all the logistics within the USA, with regards to the 40-foot container, which has been purchased by Hanover Charities and Cornerstone Jamaica. “I will also be planning to coordinate for our (Cornerstone Jamaica) American partners to come down to Jamaica,” she said. “Cornerstone Jamaica is working on the frontend of this project, while Hanover Charities is working on the backend,” she clarified.

To be sure, there is the job of filling the container and affording to do so, before it can be shipped to Jamaica. April Phinney, Programme Coordinator of four projects at Cornerstone Jamaica, volunteered to take on the task of purchasing the much-needed supplies for Jamaicans. She has indeed been successful in this endeavour as, according to Gary Robinson, she has built fruitful relationships with large corporations and managed to seal incredible deals.

Phinney’s ties to Jamaica started twenty-eight years ago on her and her husband’s honeymoon when their Blue Mountain Bicycle Tour’s guide showed them around an infant and primary school in the mountains. “It had such a huge impact on me,” she proclaimed. She and her family returned for many vacations and eventually April, who is a well-seasoned educator, launched her own nonprofit organisation, Elevate Jamaica, which primarily goes into Children’s Homes “to help struggling students with reading, math and science through tutoring and summer enrichment programmes,” she noted. Through what has become a convenient and productive way to communicate with Gary Robinson, he and April met on a video call. Gary invited her to volunteer at Cornerstone Jamaica’s ‘See Better. Learn Better’ (SB.LB) vision clinic in Fall 2019 and she instantly knew that this was a “volunteer match made in heaven.”

April Phinney, Program Coordinator

“Cornerstone Jamaica’s Mission is to connect people and resources together to create sustainable programmes that improve health and education in Jamaican communities.” 

April exudes a passion for helping Jamaica. “I look at Jamaican children and I think of them in some ways as my own. I see their potential and I see their beautiful, creative energy, and it makes me want to help them have more opportunities. I want to see them meet their goals in life, in education and happiness,” April told me, with excited conviction. Her unwavering determination and evident love for our island are qualities that make April the perfect person to help steer the container project, “which is a way for us to work with Hanover Charities and meet the needs of many beneficiaries by fulfilling their wish lists,” she enthused. It’s rather fitting that this formidable force for Jamaican children coined the name ‘Container of Love’ for this initiative. “I think the central idea is love. It is the bottom line of what we do for so many people,” apprised April, who is in awe over the wish lists from thirty-one schools and many community groups like Kitchen of Love, Farm Up Jamaica, Hopewell Sports & Community Centre, Westhaven Children’s Home for the Disabled, Lucea Infirmary, Noel Holmes Hospital, and the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation in Westmoreland, which will all be beneficiaries of ‘Container of Love’.

“Most of the schools are asking for things like paper, pencils and composition books,” Cate Toney informed me. “It’s eye-opening and heartbreaking that they are so desperate they put these things when we give them a wish list for anything. Even the big things are not crazy requests. Schools here in the States have these things at the drop of a hat,” she continued. Toney wonders how basic needs are generally not being taken care of, but this does emphasise the value of ‘Container of Love’.

“One of the big reasons this project is so important is that so many people have been out of work because of Covid, and their children are going back to school in the Fall,” April Phinney pointed out. “It’s daunting for many people, as they are trying to put food on the table. I have a list from schools trying to get shoes for their children to be able to attend school. There are probably 1500 pairs of shoes with the children’s sizes and each shoe is designated for a specific child,” she informed me. While April is soft-spoken, she has quite the gift of the gab when it comes to standing in someone else’s corner. Through the art of persuasion, she has established excellent relationships with Sam’s Club and Costco, who have introduced her to their suppliers. She has made friends with the regional director of DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) and another contact at JanSport, and has the main supplier for American Red Cross on board as well. All of these companies are either giving great deals on supplies or donating them outright to ‘Container of Love’. Filling this container will be quite a feat, but with every monetary donation they can get, April and the team will be able to procure a plethora of items, including a wide variety of school supplies, kitchenware, non-perishable foods, books, electronic devices, mattresses, linen, PPE and, of course, sanitary supplies such as the much-needed soap.

One can only imagine what the incredible result will look like at the end of August when the container is scheduled to land on our shores. “Guests arrive (in Jamaica) with duffle bags of clothing to give to people in need. This project is like that, but amplified into a 40-foot container,” Katrin Casserly exemplified. The bonus point at the end of this philanthropic work will be permanently using the container for one of two things in Hanover: a functional office for a high school guidance counsellor or a mini-community centre.

The partners of Cornerstone Jamaica intend ‘Container of Love’ to be an annual joint project. Sustainability within their programmes is key to their success. “At Cornerstone, we focus on the next generation and programmes that will help these kids for years to come. We come back. We don’t just drop something off. We are friends with these (Cornerstone Jamaica’s 11 partner schools) principals and teachers. We are entwined with these people,” Cate Toney explained.

Katrin Casserly couldn’t agree more, which is why ‘Container of Love’ is bound to successfully provide many basic needs of Jamaicans. “People in the community love us (at Hanover Charities) because they know we stay true to our word,” Casserly concluded.

How You Can Help Container of Love

  1. Donate – the more finances that we receive, the more items on the wish lists we can give.
  2. Share the information on social media – our posts or write your own thing.
  3. Interact on our social media – comment and react to it, so algorithms can bring more people to it.
  4. Word of mouth – tell people about Cornerstone Jamaica and Jamaica. Encourage people to visit Jamaica.

For More Information

By: Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown | [email protected]