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Economic crisis

Crisis hits Spain hard, unemployed turn to food banks

APTN International


For some families, middle class not so long ago, food banks have turned to be the only solution to find food to put on their plates.

  • For some familiesfood banks have turned to be the only solution to find food to put on their plates.

    For some familiesfood banks have turned to be the only solution to find food to put on their plates.

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The economic crisis is hitting Spain hard , with more than 27 percent of people out of work. For some it means no longer being able to find food to put on their plates.

Sister Lucia Caram bows her head in prayer in her convent in Manresa, in the heartland of the autonomic community of Catalonia, Spain's industrial powerhouse. Five years into the worst economic crisis to hit Spain in modern times, more than a quarter of the country's workforce is out of work. Many of them can't afford to eat.

Sister Lucia arrived from northern Argentina 19 years ago as a Dominican nun. Five years ago Lucia,  and the other four nuns who live here,  began to provide food assistance to the local people who needed their help, often a sandwich, a fruit and a yogurt.

By 2009 there were some fifty families receiving help. A year later the convent was already too small and they moved to a larger venue downtown, Sister Lucia is the only nun still involved in the project.

By that time there were over 250 families receiving help, ninety percent of them immigrants. Today at the Rosa Oriol Foundation over 950 families receive food and assistance every week.  Seventy percent of them are Spanish.

According to official figures Spain's economy will shrink a further 1.5 percent in 2013, putting even more families in jeopardy.

Huge shock

Sister Lucia Caram says that for many people it is a huge shock to find themselves without an income. "We are talking about people that used to have a medium high life level and suddenly they find themselves in out in the street. For other people the situation was normal. But for them is very difficult because they are used to live well and give charity and now they receive it."

The food bank is open from Mondays to Fridays from nine in the morning until 4 PM. People need to be registered in the computer system with their basic information and requirements.

250 volunteers sort dozens of boxes of food donated by farms, markets and regular supermarkets arrive at this depot. People arrive from across town and place their orders with the volunteers who organise their requests into bags and trolleys.

Carmen Carmona is a housewife from Manresa. She joined the Rosa Oriol Foundation last year and spends four hours per day Monday to Friday unpacking and classifying food.

"There is a lot of humanity here. The sensations are very good both for the volunteers and those who receive. We give them something but we also get a lot from them as well. We come here to give some of our time but in return we take back home lot of awareness of the plight of others. Nowadays we all need a bit of both." she says.

Less than a year ago Judith Zapata was a happily married wife with two children, a secretarial job and a mortgaged home. Today she is a jobless divorced mother, who is struggling to pay her mortgage.

"I used to be a middle class person with a stable job and stable family. And suddenly I find myself jobless, without a husband. And doing everything on my own with my two children and a mortgage to pay." she says.

The Rosa Oriol Foundations interviews people on their registration list regularly so they can understand and follow their stories and perhaps help them in other ways, such as paying bills and finding work.

Difficult decision

People are awarded points depending on the severity of their economic crisis, the points can be exchanged for groceries. "We are also building a shelter for homeless people. But we are very conscious that we don't want to perpetuate ourselves doing this. People need and want to work. So through this supermarket and by means of a software system we get to know the people. We talk to them and follow their situations. We collect all the information that we later may use to create jobs for them." explains Sister Lucia.

Francisca Herrera lost her job as a cleaner two years ago. Her husband also lost his job as a truck driver last year.

They live on her husband's scarce unemployment benefit that is mainly dedicated to paying their mortgage and bringing up their teenage son.  So six months ago Francisca came here for the first time looking for a few weekly groceries to help feed the family. It was a difficult decision.

"The first time I came here I had a very bad time. Not because of feeling shame. I have my dignity and my head up. I simply come here so I can get something to eat and not any other reason. So the first time was very hard because up until then I had never had to ask for any type of help. But nowadays I came here because I have the necessity and that's it. And I see that there are many more people in my situation. And some of them in a worst situation." she says.

UNICEF says there are 2.3 million children now living below the line of poverty in Spain, 80,000 more than last year. It also says there are now some 760,000 households with children that had no adult working, 46,000 more than 2012.

According to Oxfam if the crisis continues to escalate by 2022 over 18 million Spaniards, nearly 40 percent of the population, could be poor.


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