BARCELONA (Reuters) – Queues for food banks have swollen in Spain as the coronavirus crisis has left hundreds of thousands of people teetering on the edge of poverty.
For mother-of-two Aracely Mediavilla, the weekly deliveries of food and essential supplies from Barcelona-based volunteers have been a lifeline since she returned to Spain from Ecuador in the hope of getting her elder son medical treatment.
“It’s not just a box of food – it’s a box of love, of hope,” said Mediavilla, fighting back tears. “I am grateful for it because my children have been able to eat and feel loved.”
Mediavilla, 28, lived in Barcelona for years before Spain’s 2008 economic crisis, and decided to return when her son Julian was diagnosed with retinopathy which blinded him in one eye.
But the coronavirus lockdown, now in its 13th week, made it impossible for Mediavilla to get a job, and with a second newborn boy in tow, she and her mother Alicia rely on the help of a group of parishioners called Maria Auxiliadora, or Mary of Succour.
The volunteers, who are associated to Santa Anna church in central Barcelona, gathered funds to provide Mediavilla’s son Julian with special glasses.
They also helped her land a job as an admnistrative assistant in a laboratory, which she began last week.
On one sunny morning outside Santa Anna, the breakfast line stretched far down the street, with volunteers distributing reusable face masks to people as they queued for sacks of basic supplies and a cup of milky coffee.
“We do a breakfast, lunch and dinner service every day,” said Peio Sanchez, priest at Santa Anna. “This queue has been increasing, firstly because of the undocumented migrants.”
Undocumented immigrants are often precariously – and informally – employed, making them especially vulnerable to economic shocks and difficult domestic situations, Sanchez said.
“From the second month (we attended) people who had not received the corresponding aid and who no longer had the resources to pay for food and rent,” Sanchez added.
The priest expects Barcelona’s homeless population – currently 1,500 – to triple in the next two years.
Similar scenes have played out in Aluche, a poor neighbourhood in the capital Madrid.
Spain’s strict lockdown cost the economy 900,000 jobs in the second half of March alone.
Last week, Spain approved an income support programme for about 2.5 million of its poorest citizens, set at about half the minimum wage of 1,108 euros $1,244.84) per month.
(Additional reporting by Nacho Doce, Belen Carreno; writing by Clara-Laeila Laudette; editing by Angus MacSwan)