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“In the soup kitchen we are up to date; there is no pantry, everything that arrives is delivered»

Everyone knows María (fictitious name) in the Bonavista soup kitchen by name. She explains that she hadn’t come for a long time “because of shame.” She and her husband live with a payment of 600 euros that will not arrive until next week. She has kept 15 euros in her account and dreads going to the supermarket: “I look at the prices a lot, but everything has gone up so much…”, she laments. She has come to get something for breakfast. She gives him milk, coffee and cookies; she is also offered cocoa, but she turns it down. “I don’t want to abuse, I know there is a lot of need,” she says.

Raquel Quílez, in charge of the dining room managed by the entity Joventut i Vida, explains that they see more and more cases like María’s. “The poverty line is very fine and those who live on the edge fall … Any purchase they make in the supermarket is an effort,” she notes.

While we talk to her, the parade of volunteers carrying boxes of food is constant, and yet Quílez warns: “Food goes as it comes, we give everything, there is no pantry like before, we are up to date.” It is something that can be seen with the naked eye. The shelves are almost empty and now you can go through previously crowded places.

He acknowledges that “we are more worried than usual”, although he immediately clarifies that “we also have the confidence that those who collaborate with the dining room do not fail, are faithful and do not get tired”.

The pandemic has led to an exponential increase in the number of people served by the service. If in 2019 there were 568 people, last year, 2021, 4,062 arrived.

Quílez explains that this year they are attending to a volume similar to that of last year of people referred by the Municipal Institute of Social Services of Tarragona, IMSST, “with whom we have a very close relationship”, but the difference is that they need more food because with their own resources they can now buy less in the supermarket. It is especially noticeable in families who are given food to prepare at home. In fact, they have had to extend a shift on Fridays to make more deliveries.

Since the pandemic began, the dining room had to transform its activity and deliver the prepared food in disposable containers. They are currently preparing to reopen the dining room as such, something they look forward to, since they have many users who live alone and are very grateful for the time to eat in company.

This is the case of a neighbor who is waiting for the dining room to open and whom everyone greets by name. He is 83 years old, lives alone and despite the fact that he has worked all his life as a cook, today Parkinson’s does not allow him to cook. Of the dining room team he says that “I love them very much, they are a very nice brigade.”

Of course, Quílez remembers that all this work is a chain and is only sustained by those who collaborate economically (City Council, Provincial Council and Generalitat and entities such as la Caixa) and in spices, such as the Banc d’Aliments, supermarket chains, businesses of different size and particulars.

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In the Taula Amiga soup kitchen of the Formació i Treball foundation they took advantage of the confinement to reform the premises located on Cardenal Cervantes street and renew the appliances and furniture. The intention is to remain faithful to the idea that users (mostly homeless people, but also others who have a roof over their heads but are in a very precarious situation) feel in a welcoming environment.
The person in charge of the Taula Amiga, David Borràs, explains that they reopened in October and there are currently about 70 users referred by Serveis Socials; a slightly higher figure than they had before the pandemic.

Where the demand has increased substantially is in the group of families that collect food to prepare at home. They deliver non-perishable food, meat, fish and vegetables. In total they attend to 120, but unlike what happened before the pandemic, now they have a waiting list, and it is two or three months.

In this dining room they also do not have the possibility of storing; food from donations comes in and is delivered.
As far as volunteers are concerned, they are satisfied: “Many people want to collaborate”, which has allowed them to take turns.

Volunteers needed i ‘caliu’

In Esmorzar i Caliu, a project of Cáritas Interparroquial de Tarragona, they are also considering offering breakfasts again in person at their Peixateries Velles premises. In their case, however, the problem with reopening the premises is that the pandemic has hit them hard because the vast majority of the volunteers were elderly or very elderly who had to leave the activity for health reasons. They are currently in full call to try to find more hands.

Noelia Echenique, a social worker for the project, explains that being able to open in person instead of giving breakfasts to go would allow them to give meaning to the project’s surname ‘caliu’. She explains that by sharing a table “a bond is generated, they have a space to interact in a healthy way, they share their experiences, they help each other … And they feel that they are part of the citizenry.”

In their case, they especially serve homeless people, but they have also noticed an increase in “people who have economic income but come to request food. There are people who rent a room and after paying for electricity and water they don’t have enough to eat. People who have income but are still poor », he summarizes.

As in the two soup kitchens in the city, here they receive donations from the Food Bank and other establishments, but to guarantee that they can offer breakfast every day they also have to buy. “Invoices have multiplied, we spend more than twice as much as before on raw materials,” he acknowledges.

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