United Way beams as PSOJ COVID-19 Relief Fund reaches 80 per cent of target


United Way beams as PSOJ COVID-19 Relief Fund reaches 80 per cent of target

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

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THE Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ) COVID-19 Response Fund is now up to almost $200 million — approximately 80 per cent of the target set when the PSOJ launched the fund on April 3.

The project has so far mobilised 1,215 volunteers, distributed 71,000 food packages in 52 communities, circulated 43,000 masks, and conducted 781 health checks.

Conceptualised by PSOJ President Keith Duncan, the fund was launched soon after the virus appeared in Jamaica and the United Way of Jamaica (UWJ) — given its proven track record in fund management — quickly offered its service as the fund manager.

“We reached out to the PSOJ, with the help of UWJ's governor and PSOJ Vice-President Mariame Robinson, highlighting several projects for which United Way of Jamaica had served as fund manager, including national disasters like Hurricane Gilbert, Hurricane Ivan and even the earthquake in Haiti where we managed funds sent via United Way Worldwide to assist that country.

“The PSOJ was convinced and invited United Way of Jamaica on board as fund manager of its COVID-19 Response Fund,” said Dr Marcia Forbes, chairperson of UWJ.

Over its 35 years, UWJ has successfully managed funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and many other global entities, and Forbes said this time was no different as it rallied a full team of volunteers, including its board directors and its entire secretariat, for behind-the-scenes support.

Long-standing volunteer and past chairman of UWJ, Elon Beckford co-chaired the oversight committee alongside Duncan. UWJ's immediate past chairman, Ian Forbes co-chaired the Allocations Committee and led the charge for the novel idea of a virtual run fund-raiser.

UWJ's board director and public relations specialist, Marcia Erskine also brought her expertise to the PSOJ's communication team working on the project.

While most mainly worked remotely, it fell on the shoulders of UWJ's finance officer, Anthony Brissett, to become the agency's primary boots on the ground.

According to Brissett, this made him feel really good, as it gave him the opportunity to be involved in a national effort to “help those who would suffer the most from COVID-19, those who either never had a job or had lost their job due to the pandemic, and those who needed the PSOJ care packages”.

Brissett pointed to the four bank accounts that needed to be opened in local as well as United States dollars, and how he “masked up” from the early days of COVID-19 to ensure he got the required signatures for the accounts.

He noted that the process involved some amount of footwork but believes it was well worth his efforts when he considers that the PSOJ Response Fund raised millions of dollars and helped Jamaicans who benefited from care packages.

Brissett, now pursuing his MBA in Finance at The University of the West Indies, was also required to prepare weekly financial reports for PSOJ.

These reports tracked, among other important data, donations and disbursements.

Guided by UWJ's CEO Winsome Wilkins, other staff members fed information to Brissett who beamed with pride as he noted that he never missed a deadline to submit the weekly reports.

“UWJ is pleased to have served the country, along with others like the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force,” said Forbes.

She was supported by Wilkins, a UWJ stalwart who has served the organisation since its inception 35 years ago.

“Our mandate at United Way is national. We serve the people of Jamaica and our strong contingent of volunteers enables our small secretariat to achieve a great deal. We have been able to bring our fund management skills to this PSOJ project and ensure that every dollar can be accounted for. Transparency and accountability are hallmarks of the United Way of Jamaica. It's what we do,” declared Wilkins.

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