In late January, a 40-foot shipping container filled with a very special payload set sail for the Caribbean island of Jamaica, courtesy of the Knights of Columbus of Council 5295 in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

The payload: $55,000 worth of new and gently used clothing, construction materials, building supplies and adult diapers destined for Jacob’s Ladder, an orphanage for adults with disabilities. The container arrived in Jamaica the early part of February and was delivered to Mustard Seed the week of Feb. 10.

And the Narragansett Knights are planning another “fill the container” drive for Jacob’s Ladder this summer.

Part of the Mustard Seed Communities network, the residence is situated on 150 hilly acres in rural Moneague, Jamaica, some 40 miles from the capital city of Kingston. It houses adult residents who are disabled and have been abandoned by their families — individuals who otherwise would be homeless and living on the streets. Jacob’s Ladder currently serves 100 permanent residents, but has plans to eventually house 400.

In Jamaica, there are no governmental or private facilities to take care of individuals with mental and physical disabilities after they reach 18 years of age — hence the “adult orphanage” status.

Jacob’s Ladder turns away no one. Presently there are about 100 residents with physical or intellectual disabilities, with additional adults on a waiting list.

Each spring, the Narragansett Knights usually visit the residential home to assist with the construction and expansion of the facility. In preparation for this year’s visit, they arranged a donation drive to collect the necessary building materials along with clothing and other goods.

The drive was a major success. Over the course of the first three weeks of January, Council 5295 collected 3,100 pieces of adult clothing, some 11,750 adult diapers, and a large haul of tools and building materials donated by Pariseault Builders in Warwick, Rhode Island.

The shipping container was picked up from the parking lot of St. Thomas More Church in Narragansett and transported to a ship in the Port of Newark, New Jersey, which left there and headed for the Port of Kingston, arriving in early February.

But the Knights had to cancel their spring mission trip to Jamaica, because of the coronavirus pandemic hitting in March. But the group, which has been going to Jacob’s Ladder for many years, plans to go next March.

Jacob’s Ladder, the only facility of its kind in Jamaica, is quite an undertaking. The residents operate three watershed systems that provide irrigation for an expanse of greenhouses, farmland, an orchard and a lumber forest covering more than 120 acres in all.

“We grow sweet potato, corn, sweet peppers, cho cho (a small green squash), yam cocoa, pineapple, escallion, pumpkin, calaloo, pak choi, scotch bonnet peppers and grass for animals,” said Deacon Paul Dunn, director of Jacob’s Ladder. The agroforestry system includes food trees such as naseberry, breadfruit and ackee along with the lumber trees.

“Excess produce is sold to staff members and the market,” Deacon Dunn said, “and (earnings) are used to purchase other goods and services we cannot provide for ourselves.”

Mustard Seed Communities, the network that includes Jacob’s Ladder, was founded in 1978 by Msgr. Gregory Ramkissoon in response to the abandonment of children with disabilities on sidewalks, empty lots and in some cases, trash cans by families on the streets of Jamaica. Jacob’s Ladder is one of 13 residential care facilities operated by Mustard Seed in Jamaica, and Jamaica is among five nations served by the mission.

Larry DeMichele, program manager for Council 5295, was thrilled with the results of the drive to assist Jacob’s Ladder.

“The outpouring of support from the local community was unbelievable,” DeMichele said. “We were able to stuff a 40-foot-long shipping container with 19,277 pounds of collected items — truly unbelievable. We are very thankful for all of the support provided by everyone.”

Fellow Knight Cliff Tyler said in a June 12 email: “We are in the planning stages for another ‘fill the container’ drive this summer to continue our ongoing support of Jacob’s Ladder. At the moment, this drive will be focused on filling a 20-foot shipping container mostly of adult diapers and clothing. Both of these items are desperately needed by the residents there.”

— Gerald Korson

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