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Uruguay’s ‘people’s pots’ feed hungry people amid pandemic

It’s the Uruguayan version of a soup kitchen during the pandemic. Here they call it the “pot of the people”. No one is paid for their work. Most of the food is donated. And the house where these volunteers were preparing the party is borrowed. They were cooking pork that day; but the menu varies depending on what ingredients they can get each day. Their mission is simple: to feed those who have experienced difficult times during the Covid-19 pandemic, although others are welcome as well.

As in many other countries around the world, the pandemic has pushed many Uruguayans who previously belonged to the lower middle class into poverty. In Uruguay, where the death toll is among the highest in the world, economic activity fell by 6% in 2020 compared to the previous year. That year, during the country’s first wave of Covid-19 between March and July, a quarter of the country’s private employees applied for unemployment benefits, according to the International Labor Organization.

Andrea Dorta is one of the volunteers who works to feed the hungry, which she has been doing for almost a year. Since she started helping, she has seen the line of people in search of food grow longer and is committed to continuing to help as long as there is still a need to feed the hungry.

“We are in a food crisis, one of the biggest we have had in the history of Uruguay,” Dorta said. She says she understands the people she serves very well because she was recently in their shoes. A single mother of a three-year-old girl, she says she lost her job soon after the pandemic and ended up with little more than the equivalent of US $ 20. A bag of diapers in Uruguay costs 13.

“It wasn’t just diapers. I also had to pay the bills and stuff and the first help I got came from a place like this,” Dorta said.

Soup kitchen culture

The pot of the people in Palermo is not the only one. According to a recent study by the Universidad de la República, the oldest and largest public university in Uruguay, there are nearly 700 such soup kitchens across the country, feeding up to 55,000 people at one time. . According to the study, more than 60% of these soup kitchens received no state funding in the past year and depended on donations and volunteer work.

Dorta says they depend on “Roberto,” a general name they use to refer to neighbors or caring people who unexpectedly show up to donate food. It always seems that they appear precisely when they are needed, with a sack of potatoes, a sack of onions, dozens of chopsticks or some kind of meat.

That afternoon, volunteers were making “guiso,” fried pork with a side of carrots and potatoes and a piece of baguette. Dorta says they try to pack so many calories into each meal because they know it might be the only one people in line can get today. They call the recipients of their kindness “clients” or clients and strive to provide them with dignified treatment, which they cannot get anywhere else.

“We have a lot of homeless people and we need to increase their calorie intake. Some shelters have been forced to close,” Dorta said.

And then there are those like Homero Mederos. Not too long ago, the unemployed South Side resident was among those waiting outside for a hot meal. When CNN visited the soup kitchen, he was in charge of cutting bread which he carefully placed in large baskets.

Uruguay’s ‘people’s pots’ feed hungry people amid pandemic

“We are here because there is no work,” said Mederos, choking. He cycles to the soup kitchen every afternoon from Parque del Plata, a coastal town in the province of Canelones about 50 kilometers from the Palermo district of Montevideo.

Why travel so far? It’s the only way, right now, that he and his family can eat every day, he says. Mederos says that after volunteering at the soup kitchen, he doesn’t come home until midnight.

As dinner approached, the line outside began to grow longer. Esteban Corrales, who has been in charge of organizing this people’s pot for months, says they are constantly reminded of the great need there is for the work they do. “Every day hundreds of people show up, rain or shine, and we have to prepare hundreds of meals. This is something we had not seen before the pandemic,” said Corrales.

Uruguay is in an unusual situation. The World Bank says it “stands out in Latin America” for its high per capita income and low level of inequality and poverty. At the start of the pandemic, it looked like she had been spared the virus.

But after the emergence of a spike in infections after the holiday season, everything has changed. As of this writing, Uruguay is grappling with a second wave, with more than 200,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country of 3.5 million people.

Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) director Carissa Etienne told a virtual press conference last week that one in four deaths worldwide from the virus has occurred in the Americas. Uruguay, along with Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, were seeing an increase in infections, Etienne said.


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