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Ashmead Ali

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Even as the country enters an even greater period of economic instability, some people are pretending to be poor to get hampers so they can hoard them for later use.The revelation was made yesterday by director of the ASH-NAD foundation Ashmead Ali, who has been distributing thousands of hampers to the poor. In an interview with Guardian Media, Ali said his organisation has been appealing to the public to submit names, addresses, phone numbers and a synopsis of their plight. However, he said they have been realising that many people were giving wrong information deliberately so they could qualify for hampers to get more than one. “We became aware of this when someone called saying she was a single mother with three children then two days later she said she was a single mother with two children. Investigations revealed she was not being honest. Then someone accidentally sent a voice recording saying they must say they were very poor with several children and make it look as if their circumstances were very desperate,” Ali said. He said because of this they have stopped giving hampers to callers without doing proper investigations.“Now we interview people more. It seems the ones who are genuinely poor do not have the internet or smartphones. We get their numbers from the religious leaders in the communities and from the councillors,” he said. Ali said they were also no longer giving the hampers to MPs and councillors but were dropping them off themselves. He said they were scrutinising every request and as they distribute hampers they are now also compiling a list of families who need assistance in renovating their homes.

La Romaine Migrant Support group (LARMS) co-ordinator Angie Ramnarine meanwhile it was no secret that there are often people who try to hoodwink charitable organisations.

“For every hamper we distribute there is always someone else whom we are told is deserving of help. We do not give hampers without first investigating,” Ramnarine said.

She noted that personal checks are always done and only if the person is genuinely in need hampers are distributed. LARMS has distributed hampers to over 700 people since the COVID-19 restrictions began and for each case, Ramnarine said she made personal checks on each applicant.

The head of another charitable organisation who requested anonymity said the people who are untruthful about their circumstances are in the minority.

“We should not allow this to be a situation where a few unscrupulous people make it bad for the majority who are in genuine need. This is a non-issue,” the official said.

Another official who manages a food bank in South Trinidad but did not want to be named said he was alarmed by some of the people who claimed to be in need.

“On one occasion, we went to drop a hamper and a woman came out, opened an electronic gate and took the hamper. She lived in a mansion. We realised that people were engaging in hamper-hopping,” the official said.

Since then, he said checks are done on each applicant before hampers are distributed. Kindness Makes a Difference member Kavita Ragbir meanwhile said all of the families they have distributed hampers to are genuinely in need. “There isn’t anybody that we don’t know and has not checked out. You must go out in the field and you realise that they don’t always need food, they need toiletries and clothes and home renovation and that’s how we target our stuff,” Ragbir said, noting they had distributed 600 hampers since March 23 and were confident each family was well deserving. The issue has also been dealt with on social media.

“Some people have even called for hampers to be streamlined,” Adrian Rampersad wrote on Facebook.“There is a very piecemeal approach to “helping” those in need. Everyone is operating in silos and possibly giving help to the same person multiple times It would be nice if there was some structure on how to identify those in need and then get the help to them equitably in a transparent fashion.”