Dozens of people crowd in a line that doubles the block in downtown São Paulo. In the midst of the new coronavirus pandemic, social distance is disrespected and many do not wear a mask.
They are homeless, delivery people and people who work in the region who wait for more than an hour for the fuel that will guarantee energy for the rest of the day: a plate of food.
BBC News Brasil listened to people who receive and distribute these donations to learn about the impact of the new pandemic coronavirus in the access of the poorest population to food in the richest city in the southern hemisphere.
According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), more than 10 million Brazilians live in a situation of severe food insecurity. The survey, which refers to the years 2017 and 2018, also points out that the total number of Brazilians who are hungry has grown, according to the agency, by 3 million people in five years.
‘It’s not just the street people’
Every Monday, Father José Mario Ribeiro leaves the Nossa Senhora da Conceição Parish (Tatuapé), on the east side of the capital, along with 12 other volunteers, to deliver 1400 marmitex at Praça da Sé, in the center. According to him, today the number of meals is seven times greater than at the beginning of the year.
He says that he noticed not only an increase in the number of people in search of warm food, but also the arrival of a different audience.
“It is no longer just the street people. We are realizing that many people come to search because they are unemployed and hungry. Just yesterday a gentleman told me that he worked all day without eating and that he was waiting for us to get a lunch box. that it would be his only meal, “said the priest in an interview with BBC News Brasil.
The priest says that if there were more donations and volunteers to produce the meals, they would all be over. He said that there are people who ask for an extra lunchbox to take home to the family.
“Before the pandemic, we donated about 400 to 500 lunch boxes. If we make 2 thousand today, everything ends”, he said.
But for these deliveries to reach the hands of the hungry, a chain is needed. It ranges from donations of food, such as rice and beans, to production in an industrial kitchen and transportation – done by a volunteer market vendor’s truck, who also donates fruits and vegetables.
For her to grow, the priest makes an appeal.
“We really need rice, beans and packaging. Two meat shops make donations for us. We ask for rice and beans in the parish. Anyone who can help can take it to the parish or call – (11) 2093-1920 – to making donations. It is very worthwhile to help and I think that in our society we receive more than we donate “, he said.
The parish also delivers 300 meals on Wednesdays in three other parts of the city.
More than 3 thousand meals a day
300 meters from Praça da Sé, where the group led by Father José Mario makes donations on Mondays, Franciscan priests and volunteers distribute 1200 meals every day at lunchtime and another 1200 at dinner in Largo São Francisco. In addition to another 300 marmitex at Glicério and 400 meals at the so-called Chá do Padre.
Brother João Paulo Gabriel, from the Franciscan Tent, said that the beginning of the pandemic in March marked the beginning of an explosion of people in search of food in downtown São Paulo.
“When the pandemic was decreed, people stopped making donations in the region and the people who already knew our service went to look for us on Rua Riachuelo, where Chá do Padre works. But we were not prepared. There was no kitchen, volunteers, but we got the clearance to set up an open-air tent “, said the friar.
The group distributed about 300 meals a day on site. With high demand and high visibility after the queue was shown on TV reports, the group attracted volunteers and donors willing to help with food purchases.
After the start of the pandemic, the volunteers noticed the approach of people with a different profile.
“We had an audience that was 100% homeless, but it changed. Today there are many people who live in occupations, people who have a home and are unable to buy a meal. They are people who pouted and no longer, who no longer has a formal contract. There are desperate people wondering how they will survive when emergency relief ends “, said Frei João.
He says that today the queue has decreased a little because many people have returned to make donations in the region, considering that the risk of contamination by the new coronavirus has decreased. “They increased the mouths of ranch, as we say, and decentralized the distribution”, he said.
However, Franciscans say there has been a considerable drop in the number of volunteers, as most have returned to work, and non-perishable food is lacking to assemble basic food baskets.
Donations can be made at www.doesefras.org.br or directly at the place where Chá do Padre works, at 268 Riachuelo Street.
The group Hands of Maria arrives this Friday (10/16), World Food Day, to the mark of one million meals distributed in the Paraisópolis favela, the largest in São Paulo. The group started distributing lunch boxes from March 23, early in the pandemic. The intention, says the founder of Mãos de Maria Brasil, Elizandra Cerqueira, was to help mainly people who lost their jobs in the pandemic, especially women.
“We have the mission of generating income in the favela through cooking and fighting violence against women. Our initial objective would be to produce 2,000 lunch boxes a day, but the pandemic became something bigger than we anticipated and we even delivered 10,000 lunch boxes a day, in a mobilization with the G10 of favelas and private sector companies “, he said.
Unemployed for a year, the porter Enéias de Camargo Nogueira, 53, is one of the people who daily receive the lunchboxes produced by Mãos de Maria.
“I have been caught for three months and that is what helps me to stay in those times,” he said.
In the same line, Edmilson da Silva works in construction, but he is also unemployed. He takes three lunch boxes to share with his mother, father and sister.
“Only my father is working. And this is a great help, since we are currently without income,” he said.
The founder of Mãos de Maria points out that meals are essential to improve the immunity of the population.
“When a person runs out of food, he is much more vulnerable to disease and also to the virus, with low immunity. In this crisis we welcome everyone who is hungry,” he said.
She said that starting this Friday the same work will also be done in the states of Pará, Pernambuco and the Federal District.
Every day, the so-called “street presidents” remove lunch boxes in the central kitchen and take them to the families they accompany. Each of them serves 50 residences.
The work does not prevent the formation of queues in front of the place where the lunch boxes are produced. According to Elizandra Cerqueira, the first people show up at 10 am, but the first meals are delivered only at noon.
“People are desperate for fear of not getting food. Even if we explain, they want to stay there and wait more than two hours to make sure they have something to eat,” said the program’s founder.
Anyone who wants can donate through the G10 favelas website: www.g10favelas.org
Seniors receive food at home
But not everyone is able to leave the house to get food. This is the case of 95-year-old Frida Braunstein Taranto, one of 700 people served daily by Israeli charity group Ten Yad.
Taranto’s youngest son lived with her, but was a victim of the covid-19 and died in July, at the age of 29. Widowed for 15 years, she lives alone and doesn’t know what it would be like if she had to cook.
“The food they send is very tasty and healthy. I have received it at home since the beginning of the pandemic. An adequate quantity comes for lunch and a pot of soup for dinner, apart from dessert. There is no way to complain,” he said.
On Fridays, says Taranto, Ten Yad delivers not only the meal of the day, but also Saturday and Sunday – days when there is no distribution – frozen.
Rabbi Berel Weitman, deputy executive director of Ten Yad, told BBC News Brasil that every day dozens of vans and passenger cars line up to pick up lunch boxes and deliver them voluntarily in all regions of the city.
“Our work was founded in 1992 with a humble cafeteria, where the elderly and needy people had lunch. In 1994, we started taking home to people who were bedridden and with limited mobility. A job we call” Meals on Wheels “, or Meals on Wheels “, says the rabbi.
In 2004, it started a partnership with the city government to assist the elderly and people with vulnerable people registered with the municipal social service. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the service has been adapted and has also started to distribute basic food baskets and personal hygiene kits.
In addition to the service, today 100 meals are already distributed to the youngest in the cafeteria located in Bom Retiro. The group also manages the 1500 meals offered at Bom Prato do Glicério for R $ 1.
“Today we are concerned, with an increasing demand for food. More and more families are asking, especially the elderly who are unable to cook. And we need more holy people to help us,” said Rabbi Berel Weitman.
Anyone interested in making donations, can contact the group through the website (www.tenyad.org.br), make donations of food, clothes for the bazaar, become a monthly member or even make donations through the São Paulo invoice.
“I want to leave a phrase of Jewish wisdom. We think we are helping a needy person in situations like this. But the needy person does a lot more for the donor. This is one of the lessons we learned during the pandemic and that we cannot miss: solidarity” .
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