Children so poor they don’t wear underwear to school isn’t exactly the image that comes to mind when one thinks of the Sandals resort in Antigua. But that’s exactly what a Bangor couple found during their vacation last year, when they signed up to leave the all-inclusive hotel for a day and read books to children at a local primary school.
Jeff and Aleshia Figgins, a massage therapist and an independent dental hygienist, respectively, spend every March like many Mainers — leaving the state to escape the cold. They have visited the Sandals resort in Antigua several times, but last year signed up for a program through The Sandals Foundation.
The Sandals Foundation is a philanthropic arm of the company that works to provide support, through educational and health services, to the communities where the resorts operate. Visitors at the Antigua resort are matched with 4- and 5-year-old children at the Villa Primary School for a few hours of reading aloud and a tour of the school.
The life-changing experience last year led the Figgins’ to spend the past three months raising funds for the school and buying basic essentials for the children who have little. Items such as shoes, underwear and backpacks fill a 7-foot shelving unit at Jeff Figgins’ office, and more donations are pouring in daily. The couple will bring all the items with them in large luggage totes in March of this year, when they return to the island for another winter escape.
“We went and instantly it changed our lives,” Jeff Figgins said. “Right when we walked in, I was shocked and I was a little bit overwhelmed by what they don’t have.”
After the reading session was over, the couple met with the school’s principal, Sandra Felix, and told her how moved they were by meeting the children and how they wanted to help. She handed them a long list, but what stood out the most was how basic the included items were, namely underwear and shoes.
“Ninety percent of the kids don’t have underwear, they don’t have shoes — or the ones they have don’t fit them,” Figgins said. “But it’s really the underwear that gets me. That’s just wrong.”
Like true Mainers, the Figgins’ are trying to stretch the dollars that come in as far as possible. They have been shopping at Marden’s in Ellsworth and asking store managers about special deals.
After hearing about the drive, Felix sent Jeff Figgins an email, joking she was “gaining weight” because she was so busy celebrating his efforts.
“I’ve added more pounds. I really can’t stop smiling after hearing such great news,” she wrote in the email.
For the Figgins’, it’s that response that makes the drive worth the effort. They will bring a list of donors to the school in March to show the children it wasn’t just them who donated. To date, 31 people — friends and clients of Jeff and Aleshia — donated money and items.
“These kids don’t know us, but now someone is showing them what good will and good faith really is,” Jeff Figgins said.
Interested in donating to the drive? Contact Jeff Figgins at 207-262-4200 or visit the office at 1460 Hammond St. in Bangor by Feb. 28.