The shiny BMW slowly driving through the slums of Kingston, Jamaica looked strangely out of place on the crowded, dirty roads. Those on the street eyed the driver with suspicion as he approached them, offering them a ride to a free lunch.
“Most of the homeless people didn’t want to come into the car because they didn’t trust me,” says Cecil Foster, president of the East Jamaica Conference chapter of the Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI). “Nearly all of them wanted to walk, so I gave them directions of where they could go to get their free lunch.” Other members of the ASI team were up at Market Square, inviting as many homeless people as possible to come and receive free food.
A few weeks earlier, Cecil and his newly elected ASI team met together to determine priorities for the coming year. “We had a morning session where we went away early, at 5:00 a.m., just to pray, listen to God, and learn what He wanted us to do. After a two-hour prayer session, we decided that we needed to do something to help the less fortunate. Later, in talking with the East Jamaica Conference, we learned that they were thinking about the same thing.” From there plans began for the Good Samaritan Inn, providing a place to minister to the people living in the inner-city ghettos.
On December 23, 1997, when the ASI team distributed their first free lunches, there were leftovers. “On the first day, we had more than half of the lunches left,” says Cecil. “We were out on the street, with nothing but benches and chairs—and lunches.”
But the team didn’t give up. On the second week they went again and were able to give away more food. On the third week there were even more people coming, so the team stopped advertising. The program grew from 50 to 100 lunches per week, then 150 to 200. The Good Samaritan Inn now serves more than 900 lunches per week, adding up to nearly 47,000 free lunches every year.
“It was mind-boggling to see,” Cecil exclaims. “Can you imagine how this mushroomed?!”
Since its beginnings of serving lunches on the street, the Good Samaritan Inn has become a well-known landmark in the community. An old factory warehouse, located directly behind the Heroes Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kingston, was purchased and renovated to better serve the needs of the inner-city communities. The services now offered at the “Inn” include separate men’s and women’s bathing facilities, free haircuts, provisions for daily washing and drying of laundry, distribution of shoes and clothing, regular health clinics and health fairs, back- to-school help for students, Christmas treats for the young and the elderly, and an expansion of meal services to three days per week. Since 2012 a 30-bed women’s overnight facility has been available at the Inn, giving emergency help to women and children in crisis situations.
“We have partnered with some corporations as well to help make this happen,” explains Cecil, “a commercial bank, the Jamaican stock market, and others.”
Kerry-Ann Gray, assistant to Cecil Foster, comments on the influence he has had on her and other staff at his FosRich group of companies in Jamaica. “We became a part of it because Mr. Foster had a part in it. As his assistant, I tend to hear a lot of his thoughts. He has a passion to help the less fortunate. We desired to come on board and help. It’s not just the fact that he has money to do it—he believes in it very much. Several of us [staff] came down to assist. It gives you this warm, this really nice feeling that you are able to be part of something so magnificent. You are touching people’s lives. It’s a privilege to be part of something like this.”
Part of this quarter’s Thirteenth Sabbath Offering will go to create a special maternity clinic and wellness center at the Inn, and a dental clinic, providing services for both children and adults.