Thursday, April 18, 2024

ARGENTINA | 15-02-2024 16:30

‘Comedores’ in crisis: Emergency food aid at risk from cuts

Milei government’s move to suspend aid to soup kitchens and introduce a new system to ‘cut out the middleman’ damages emergency food assistance efforts.

Earlier this month, a line formed outside the Human Capital Ministry in Buenos Aires as poverty-stricken Argentines queued for more than 20 blocks to demand emergency food aid and complain about cutbacks in assistance to soup kitchens.

The organisers of the ‘hunger line’ demonstration have called for further protests to highlight the challenges facing the population amid runaway inflation and rising poverty. Yet, far away from the queues and demonstrations, there are also soup kitchens outside the capital, which in many cases run without government support, that are also in crisis.

At soup kitchens across Argentina, which are suffering from a lack of resources, an increasing number of people are looking for help.

“The situation we’re going through, such as that facing all soup kitchens, is very difficult,” said Margarita Barrientos, head of the Los Piletones soup kitchen and the Fundación Margarita Barrientos, which doesn’t receive state aid.

Barrientos said the situation has been critical since last year, but she also pointed out that over the last few months, “it has worsened considerably given the rise in joblessness.”

“We’re going through a very tough time, we have a lot more people,” she told Perfil.

At Los Piletones, they provide four meals and work from Monday to Saturday. But lately “donations have fallen, now very few people help.”

“Those who help are those who have less – the middle class – and right now I think there’s no middle class left,” said Barrientos.

Besides Los Piletones, located in the south of the capital, the association has a soup kitchen in the Los Pozos neighbourhood of Cañuelas. More than 300 people visit every day.

In the city of Santiago del Estero, Barrientos also has a centre for early childhood and a retirement home. “I had to close the soup kitchen [there] last year. I couldn’t keep it. I no longer have provincial or municipal aid, let alone national. Now I don’t know how it will carry on with this situation we’re going through,” Barrientos explained.

‘Food emergency’

In the city of Frías, in the same province, a “food emergency table” was created back in December. Organised by the local branch of the Catholic Church, it brings together “different social and political organisations,” not just soup kitchens.

A survey of those attending revealed that “an approximate number of 3,000 people served, between children and teenagers going to these soup kitchens, with different frequency.”

“What has happened over the last month, especially, is the increase in the frequency and number of children going,” said the Church group.

Those committed to the project are organising a charity push, food bank and meet every 10 days to coordinate tasks with clubs, schools, political parties and State institutions.

“A people’s fair is being suggested in different neighbourhoods in order to bring food at a low cost to underprivileged sectors, in addition to collecting funds for the different soup kitchens. This is a spacious and diverse space seeking aid to soup kitchens or people in need,” the group explained to Perfil.

Like Los Piletones, the group do not receive any kind of national aid. “The situation is always complex in provinces such as ours because there is already a very strong structural poverty problem. And when national policies are of adjustment, these contexts worsen and they end up generating an even greater demand,” said the group.

Preferring not to attribute their comments, the group’s organisers said that the national government’s view of the challenges facing Argentina are “a biased view of centralism, which only looks at one geographic universe and doesn’t contemplate at all what’s going on in the provinces, where poverty is getting worse and the capacity for aid by the national State becomes even more remote.”

‘Increasing demand’

Yovana Avellaneda used to run two soup kitchens in Catamarca. She had to close them in December after the provincial government cut off aid.

“There’s an increasing demand from people in need,” Avellaneda explained to Perfil. “For years now I’ve been fighting for my soup kitchens to be formalised, but it’s impossible. It’s unfair because sometimes they set up soup kitchens with people who don’t work with love and empathy, but who do it only out of convenience or politics”, she added.

In order to be formally recognised as a soup kitchen, the government asked for a series of requirements and amenities which, for budgetary reasons, could never materialise, explained Avellaneda. The closing of these two centres implies that at least 80 families have lost their place of last resort since December.

“Up to December 2023, we have assisted 350 people in a state of emergency,” stated Jorge Ovejero, the provincial leader of the Siempre Diversidad Association of the same province. 

The institution conducts different activities, including surveys of specific needs and food aid. The association works “on the expansion and ensuring the exercise of human rights, by lesbians, bisexuals and trans people in our territory,” Ovejero explained.

The failure to fund soup kitchens “has a deep impact on our population, which is vulnerable and is subject to profound inequality,” he added. 

“There are 55,000 soup kitchens throughout the country, over four million people affected, and this is an infringement on the human right to be fed, no less,” he added.

“The break-up of the federal scheme … is a manoeuvre which bars the voice, stories and situations of provinces such as ours from reaching the Human Capital Ministry,” he observed.

Needs are rising, without or without demonstration.

“I’m not blocking roads, I’m not picketing because I never have, I won’t queue up at the [Human Capital] Ministry for aid, I believe they know that soup kitchens exist, they know the soup kitchens that provide solutions to people. They should call us for a list of our needs,” Barrientos concluded.


*Those who wish to help the Fundación Margarita Barrientos can do so via (011) 4919-1333.

) President Javier Milei’s government, which says it wants to cut out the intermediaries, has trimmed state aid to soup kitchens.

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Agustina Bordigoni

Agustina Bordigoni


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