62.9% of children and adolescents is in a situation of monetary poverty while the network of soup kitchens is collapsed.
At the beginning of the year, when the pandemic was a distant news in Argentina, 350 people visited Los Bajitos food kitchen to receive a meal for lunch. Now, the social organization, located in Buenos Aires, receives more than 600 people.
“People who had never asked for help from a soup kitchen began to come. Due to the pandemic, they were left without work or their hours were reduced and many people do not come with their income to buy food. They approached me with shame and told me that when work was reactivated they were not going to ask for more food assistance ”, says Cristina Gerez, General Coordinator of the institution.
The increase in demand in Los Bajitos is not an isolated case. In fact, the Argentine government is assisting 11,200,000 people with food due to the impact of the coronavirus lockdown measures on the economy. Before the pandemic, eight million required help.
Now, 85 billion Argentine pesos are spent in food assistance, concentrated in dining rooms and in food stamps, which was the first instrument of the Argentina Plan against hunger, promoted by the Government.
This latest food supplement policy for the most vulnerable sectors was inaugurated at the beginning of the year and is intended for mothers of boys and girls up to six years of age who receive Universal Child Allowance.
Pregnant women with more than three months of gestation receive the Pregnancy Allowance; and people with disabilities receive the AUH.
Food cards correspond to 4,000 Argentinian pesos for mothers with one child and 6,000 Argentinian pesos for those with two or more children.
The National Director of Food Security of the Ministry of Social Development, Karina Yarochevski, confirms that food stamps reached 1.5 million holders and 2.8 million children.
Victoria Tolosa, head of the National Council for the Coordination of Social Policies, points out that this year there was an unprecedented transfer of resources: “Social assistance in times of pandemic was very important in order to cushion the impact. During the first months we focused on the urgent: a plate of food. Then, we are now going to focus on what the plate contains”.
“It is evident that the food issue before the pandemic was already complex”, recognizes Sebastián Waisgrais, specialist in Social Inclusion and Monitoring at UNICEF. “In fact, food stamps are aimed at reducing one of the impacts of poverty in Argentina, which is food insecurity,” he says.
8.3 million girls and boys are in a situation of monetary poverty, that is, 62.9% of the total child and adolescent population. And 2.4 million are in extreme poverty.
The increase in demand for food is also confirmed by the Buenos Aires Food Bank, as it was revealed that the delivery of products grew by 66%. “When social, preventive and compulsory isolation was decreed in March, we had to implement an emergency procedure to register new organizations.
This means that, when a soup kitchen or community organization contacted them for help, they attempted to fill their needs. They also had to reorganize the logistics of food delivery. “Before, organizations came to the Bank to collect donations.”
They received between 40 and 45 organizations per day. With the health crisis they had to see how to reach the institutions and prevent them from gathering in the warehouse.
In March, this entity distributed 625 tons of food and in the last months 1,000 tons. Linked institutions are reaching 570,000 people, while previously they served 168,000 people. The community centers are operating in a systemic way. They bring food, not only to the children, but to the entire family.
In the survey of the Food Bank of Buenos Aires, it was observed that of the organizations that maintain the provision of food, 70% had to implement the delivery of groceries or bags. In other words, the possibility of eating in the dining room was suspended to prevent many people from gathering.
In the case of Los Bajitos, volunteers begin to arrive at the dining room to cook. Starting at 11.30, families start to come looking for their food.
“When they come to get food, they have to bring a container so that we can use it the next day and thus give them a new ration,” says Gerez. Around three in the afternoon the delivery is finished.
“We have fewer volunteers than before because some are far and because of the pandemic I asked them to stay at home. Due to the increase in demand, we had to buy a new 100-liter pot and a stove because we could not supply it. We had six burners, but they weren’t enough. Volunteers began to come an hour earlier to arrive with everyone’s food,” says Gerez.
“Before we tried to give it once a month. But being so many, we can’t get out of the noodles, polenta, rice and sauce. It costs a lot to maintain the nutritional level. We use basic vegetables for the sauces and sometimes we make vegetable soup. The State donates food to us once a month, but it is not enough. Between the polenta, lentils, noodles and rice, which they provide us, we set ourselves for a week. They send 130 kilos of rice and for a single meal we use 70 kilos. We also have private donors and a company that helps us”.
Argentina’s food emergency has to do largely with the quality of food. “Sugar, carbohydrates, ultra-processed and dry foods are consumed in excess. In general, it costs a lot to have fresh food, meats, vegetables and legumes.
“We have been working with other social organizations such as Cáritas and La Poderosa to introduce quality food into donations. Until now, the nutritional needs of the little ones have not been considered and they end up eating from the same pot as adults,” Gerez says.
According to data from the Second National Nutrition and Health Survey (ENNyS2), 41.1% of boys and adolescents between 5 and 17 years old are overweight and obese in Argentina.