Every story is a story about the haves and have-nots. In Portugal, wealth inequality has become even more apparent with the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has served as a catalyst to reveal holes in the economic and healthcare systems.
In the 26th IMUN conference, the General Assembly addressed the issue of “the question of sustainably restructuring medical services and allocating resources to combat future pandemics.” Much of the conversation surrounding this issue tackles the need to strengthen healthcare systems, but there is also a problem that deserves a generous amount of attention: food insecurity.
Many industries have collapsed as a result of the pandemic, and a significant amount of people in Portugal find themselves without food. Banco Alimentar, the Portuguese branch of the European Food Banks Federation, has received more and more requests for food donations.
The People Most Affected
Since March, when the Portuguese government introduced quarantine measures, Banco Alimentar donated food to an additional 60,000 people. CAISL’s community service coordinator, Ms. Teixeira, comments, “We’re not that many people in Portugal-- we’re 10 million-- so this means a lot of people were hit by this pandemic.”
In Portugal, those that are seeking help from Banco Alimentar mainly consist of low-income families, the elderly, migrants, and those in the tourism or restaurant industry. Before this year, low-income families generally did not “fit the profile of people that ask for the help of Banco Alimentar on a regular basis,” explains Ms. Teixeira.
Migrants seeking a better life in Portugal are also struggling due to food insecurity. Many migrants are temporary residents, and their status opens them up to mistreatment from employers. Their economic hardships have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
What Can You Do
In previous years, Banco Alimentar held biannual food drives in supermarkets. These food drives were canceled, so the organization is turning to other strategies- one of them is asking schools to donate food.
CAISL is collecting food donations for Banco Alimentar until the last week of November. Your non-perishable donations will be sent to the organization’s warehouse, from which the food will be distributed to the families that are most in need.
Banco Alimentar is also implementing another strategy nationwide in collaboration with supermarket chains. From November 30th to December 4th, people all over the country will be able to make donations at the checkout register. You will be able to buy food vouchers, representing items such as a bottle of olive oil or a can of tuna. At the end of the day, the supermarket will collect all of the food items purchased through vouchers and donate them to Banco Alimentar.
In the Future
The sudden rise of food insecurity in Portugal reveals the need for change in the way the country addresses poverty. According to the National Statistical Institute of Portugal, a survey conducted last year indicates that 17.2% of people in Portugal are at risk for poverty.
Even as a European country, the income inequality gap in Portugal is higher compared to most countries in Southern Europe. From her own experience, Ms. Teixeira feels that it is harder for the Portuguese to “afford essential goods and have a healthy lifestyle because they have a lower income.”
Poverty also extends to the psyche. “Sometimes these people avoid asking for help because they see it as a sign of weakness,” says Ms. Teixeira, “it’s almost a taboo.” Many studies have agreed that being poor is far more than a lack of money; it is also the shame of having financial difficulties and the unending stress of surviving each day.
In Portugal, private organizations such as Banco Alimentar work to alleviate food insecurity, but it can be argued that this should be the government’s role. Since the poor rely on individuals and the private sector for donations, it is possible that the state is too passive on the issue of poverty.
Currently, Banco Alimentar assesses each family to determine if some are more in need than others. It is to “make sure people are not cutting corners,” explains Ms. Teixeira. Although food is inarguably a finite resource, this process extends the time a family has to wait to receive food donations.
It has become glaringly obvious that food insecurity is one of the many issues that today’s generations need to tackle. Even in developed countries such as Portugal, food insecurity can easily permeate through the population. With the constant influx of migrants seeking better lives in Europe, it seems that the problem won’t disappear any time soon. But small steps help.