BUENOS AIRES – Neither the threat of the coronavirus nor snow drifts could prevent a group of volunteers from delivering vital necessities to communities in Argentine Patagonia that are far from the beaten path.
The recipients, many of them farmers or ranchers, are always in need of something, the founder of Solidary Journeys Bariloche, Marcelo Agustin Bearzi, told EFE in a telephone interview, describing the area served by the organization as “forgotten.”
“Often, supplies don’t reach” the small, widely scattered settlements that characterize the region, he said.
Snow covers the road ahead for as far as the eye can see, forcing the caravan of 12 SUVs to wait while members of the team use shovels to clear a path.
A week earlier, a powerful cold front and heavy snow – July is winter in the Southern Hemisphere – forced the expedition to turn around after traveling 150 kilometers (93 miles), three-quarters of the way to Mencue.
This time, they manage to keep going, while another contingent transports drugs and medical supplies to Ingeniero Jacobacci, also around 200km from the group’s base in Bariloche, the largest city in Rio Negro province.
The concept of solidarity is second nature to Bearzi, who has childhood memories of waiting in the car as his mother delivered pasta and rice to needy families in the slums ringing Buenos Aires.
The origins of Solidary Journeys go back to 2011, when the eruption of Puyehue volcano in neighboring Chile forced the evacuation of thousands of people in Rio Negro.
Learning of the plight of people in the affected area, Bearzi came forward with an offer to use his SUV to deliver emergency supplies. Nine years later, he is preparing for what will be his 121st mission.
“In the beginning I asked for donations and when I filled up my SUV, filled up a trailer, I went without further ado. Whoever wanted to go, went, and whoever didn’t, never mind. I went out and I didn’t have to give explanations to anyone,” Bearzi told EFE.
After making “50 or 60 trips” on those terms, he started to hear from people who had learned of his efforts via the media or online and were anxious to contribute their time.
Now, Solidary Journeys comprises a core group of a half-dozen people who organize the expeditions and recruit volunteers. For mission No. 120, members of a motoring club, 4-Wheelers of the South, joined the caravan.
Bearzi and his collaborators are gearing up for the next trip, a deliver of aid to coincide with the Children’s Day holiday, celebrated in Argentina on the third Sunday in August.
The next caravan, the fifth since Argentina adopted restrictions on movement and activity to contain COVID-19, will carry toys and sweets for the youngsters, along with winter clothes and boots, firewood and animal feed.
But as they prepare for that trip, Solidary Journeys volunteers are taking it upon themselves to assist nursing homes and soup kitchens in Bariloche.
Coronavirus is having a major impact on the economy in Rio Negro, which depends heavily on tourism.
In a typical year, Bariloche would be filled now with visitors from around the Americas and beyond, drawn by the ski resorts and the city’s Alpine architecture. Amid a pandemic, however, the businesses that cater to tourists are left without customers.