Community leader Mavlet Gordon provides food aid in times of need, such as a hurricane or a pandemic. Attention to subtle signs of a lack of nutritious meals is important, as well as discretion: ‘We quietly add students to the meal programme, so they do not feel embarrassed or get bullied due to their situation at home.’
Mavlet Gordon is a well-known community leader on Sint Maarten due to her extensive volunteer work. She is the head of the Federation of Community Services of the nine Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) churches on the island.
Six years ago, she started assisting the SDA School with various tasks, including running the school’s kitchen. Her workload grew exponentially with the passing of Hurricane Irma and now the pandemic. However, Mavlet is known to enjoy a challenge. “Once the need is there, I feel a push to do my part”, she says with a big smile.
Can you tell me more about the community service you provide?
“Through our church, we do a lot of community service, including providing meals, clothing, and counselling. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, we delivered meals to over 2000 families and made an average of 600 meals per day for two years. We were able do this because of donations from supermarkets, business owners, church members, and others in the community. Even donating just 10 dollars helps!”
How did the pandemic affect families?
“It started with ten families at our school indicated that they needed food assistance. This prompted me to call and ask around. Quickly this number grew to 86 families in our school that needed help, mainly due to unemployment. During the pandemic, we focused on making grocery bags instead of meals. We assisted hundreds of other families outside of the school and our church as well.”
“A child might be bringing snacks to school, but it is just a packet of cookies. This will prompt us to start providing them with meals and check up on their home situation”
How do you know someone is in need?
“Sometimes people tell you, but others might be shy or ‘proud’. It is important to listen and look. This is especially true when children are involved. Instead of asking for help, they might act out or the opposite – be very quiet. We also look at what they bring to school. A child might be bringing snacks to school, but it is just a packet of cookies. This will prompt us to start providing them with meals and check up on their home situation.”
Can it be difficult to have conversations with a parent?
“We try to make sure everyone feels comfortable. For example, I try to blend in and not wear my ‘Sunday best’ to struggling neighbourhoods. When I visit a home, I go by myself, or just with one other person, so as to not overwhelm the family. We also consider the feelings of our students that receive free meals. We quietly add them to the meal program, which teachers can indicate with stickers next to their names. This is also so that they do not feel embarrassed or become a target for bullies due to their situation at home.”
“It helps relieve the stress of parents when they know that their child is being fed”
Why is food assistance for families so necessary?
“Nutritious meals should be accessible to everyone for overall wellness and health reasons. In addition, children who do not receive proper nutrition will not have the energy to focus on learning. It also helps relieve the stress of parents when they know that their child is being fed. This allows the parents to focus on solving challenges they might have at home, such as finding a job.”
Is there a solution for preventing the need for food assistance?
“The only solution is a stable and fair economy. Until then, we will just have to be willing to share a bit more. The reality is that the gap between the poor and rich is only getting bigger – not just in Sint Maarten but also worldwide. Empathy isn’t a quality everyone has, but should have. In my case, my faith in God keeps me going. And remember, even if you cannot share financially, a smile can also help relieve pain.”
People interested in volunteering or donating to SDA’s School and Churches’ Community Programs can contact Mavlet at +1721 523 9956 or Senior Pastor Vashni Cuvalay +17215208027. Mavlet would like to especially thank the Church of Latter Day Saints, Island Gem Foundation, ADRA St Maarten for their continued support.