Two women sitting on the steps of a building are concentrating on the plate of stew they have just received. A man in his forties leaning against one of the parked cars joins the postcard and enjoys the dish he received. In front, the crowd that covers the street confirms that it is already 12 noon and the dining room located in the middle of the block has already begun to distribute food.
On both sides of the gate, lines form that manage to fill the Pedro Echagüe block in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Constitución. On one side are those who eat in the plastic containers provided by the dining room. On the other, those who come with a Tupperware to take home. “I arrive at 8.45 and there are already people. The first ones who arrive have dessert. Afterwards, we are left without, almost never enough. The good thing here is that you can repeat as many times as you want”, says José Luis, who has been working at the dining room door for four years. “The days that we do not open people come to look for the same”, he adds.
Inside, a woman stirs the pot and with a metal ladle loads each of the 15 containers located on a black plastic drawer like the ones used to transport vegetables. “With three of these we are fine,” José Luis tells him, who calculates based on the row outside. The 15 or 16 pots prepared by the volunteers who arrive at 7 in the morning are enough to feed, according to the latest surveys, about 2,000 people every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once the day is over, they leave with two other pots to Congress, where in general they add another 500 people.
“It shows that there is hunger in the street“, it states Sergio Sanchezleader of Excluded Workers Movement which he directs, added to this which is the largest in the City, another 20 dining rooms in Buenos Aires. “And in all classes. money is not enough”, he adds while commenting on the case of a man who, despite working in a bank, is in the dining room.
The reality coincides with the data: two current basic salaries, set at $33,000, are not enough to cover the basic basket. In order not to fall below the poverty line, according to the latest Indec survey, a typical Argentine family needed $83,807 in February6% more than in January.
“For how many?” asks one of the volunteers. “There are five of us, and will you have a milk?” Answers a woman who is around 50 years old, while she delivers three bags with Tupperware. Once they are loaded, they add oranges, the dessert of the day, and bread and return them to their owners. “They don’t just come to eat, they come to look for food. They ask me for everything, milk, diapers. It’s not enough for them. I do what I can to give to everyone”, says Sanchez.
The line empties and, while inside they load the new plates to go out to distribute, it seems that people reproduce and in a matter of minutes Pedro Echagüe street is filled again. Two hours later, the image will be the same and the demand does not decrease. José Luis, meanwhile, tries to tackle the multiple demands of those who attend that exceed requests for a plate of food. “I’m going to take a shower,” a pregnant woman tells him. “Social assistance is today. The lawyer is coming on Friday”, he answers several times, when asked by those who request assistance for a procedure.
Sánchez reports that before the pandemic the number of families that attended was around 700 and adds that the typical rotation is no longer observed as a result of those who started working stopped coming. “Some days some came and then they didn’t come back. You realized that they had found a job. Today all the families that come staythere is no rotation”, he says.
Johana Del Valle Gomezreferring to Free-Standing Neighborhoods of the South and in charge of 10 kitchens in the Buenos Aires town of Stephen Echeverria, adds another feature to the diagnosis: “Historically the boys came, today whole families come. It started with the pandemic and when everything opened, the level of attendance dropped, but they couldn’t get a job and they came back.”.
A recent Caritas report reflects the critical situation that has increased with the pandemic. In 2021, the institution quintupled the recipients of its social programs, reaching 688,835 people while in 2020 there were 127,913. It allocated $1.283 million to food assistance and aid plans for education, work and housing.
The situation worsened, even more, with uncontrollable inflation. “In the last two months we have seen an increase, especially in the suburbs. Many more big people are coming, people who collect pensions and it is not enough“, it states Sylvia Saravia, who leads the bases of Barrios de Pie-Libres del Sur. As an example, in the dining room “A granite of hope”, in the neighborhood of Esteban Echeverría, the gaucho, the last month went from 30 to 70 attendees and each asks for their families. “The situation worries us, it overwhelms us”says Johana, who says that In several locations in the suburbs, bartering returned and they are organized via whatsapp.
Foot neighborhoods he has been keeping his own statistics for ten years, the Neighborhood Price Index (IBP), that measures the prices of food in the basic basket. Saravia assures that it is usually very similar to the Indec figures, but this month they registered a worrying increase. While official figures speak of a 4.7% increase for last month, the IBP recorded 9.8 percent.
“The blow is stronger than it looks. Eating in the neighborhood is much more expensive. In local businesses, the increase was even stronger and that’s where they buy the most, because as they have money, people go and buy”, explains Saravia.
“When I have a little money I go and buy oil, it is very expensive. It is what we use the most and what is most difficult for us to obtain. There is no oil, no sugar,” says Noemí. Three years ago he decided to make a picnic area behind his own house. With the help of their colleagues they worked on weekends and today they only need to build the floor, they have already finished the brick walls and the tin roofs. In the back they also have a vegetable garden where three women from the Empower Plan work.
It’s 3:00 p.m. and Johana arrives at the Esperanza picnic area, on 9 de Abril-Barrio Zaizar, run by Noemí. The snack is ready. For fear of the rain, the five women who are in charge of cooking it met a while before. “We cook with wood because gas is very expensive. That’s why when it rains, we can’t”, explains Noemí, while she fans the “rosquitas” and the homemade bread with a dishtowel to scare away the flies. “We have about 50 guys. They hit many at school, but they come here the same way. It’s not enough, everything is very expensive”, says the woman, who is known in the neighborhood and who, even on days when the picnic area is closed, receives visits from her neighbors in search of food.
They all agree that the situation is “very complicated” and, in addition to continuing with the claim to improve the quality of the merchandise delivered by Social Development, they repeat that it is not enough. “I’m not asking you for anything here. I’m not asking you anything. Come and I’ll give you a plate of food. The state makes you fill out forms. There are brakes, bureaucracy and help is already. The State is not in the moment of need of the people”, summarizes Sanchez.