CUAUTITLAN IZCALLI, Mexico – Millions of people have been plunged into extreme poverty by the coronavirus crisis in Mexico, where a relief organization is combating a burgeoning hunger problem by providing food and nutritional advice to the neediest.
Official figures released prior to the pandemic indicated that over 40 percent of the population – or more than 53 million people – stood below the poverty line.
But at least 16 million more people have fallen into extreme poverty (based on income) amid the current crisis, according to a study by the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
One of the organizations striving to address this economic hardship is Bancos de Alimentos de Mexico (BAMX) – a nationwide network of dozens of food banks, one of which is located in Cuautitlan Izcalli, a city in the central state of Mexico.
That food bank had been providing service to 18,300 people prior to the pandemic. But that number has risen to 23,000 during the quarantine thanks to increased donations to BAMX, which receives a wide variety of food from private food companies and distributes it to people facing food insecurity.
That organization, however, believes that handing out food baskets is insufficient and must also be accompanied by advice on maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.
The food banks’ main mission is “to eradicate hunger, to contribute to the nutrition of all these people who don’t have access to adequate nutrition. We work not only so they can take home a basket, but also so that basket we distribute really has an impact,” the social work coordinator at the BAMX facility in Cuautitlan Izcalli, Fabiola Sanchez, told EFE.
She said people visit that establishment in search of not only food but also opportunities and knowledge that can help them earn an income.
The person in charge of that food bank’s nutritional area, Ildefonso Alvarez, spoke to EFE about its dual mission.
“We believe the support needs to be comprehensive. Besides providing food, it’s important to provide nutritional information and orientation. If not, we’re not helping to fix a serious overweight and obesity problem we have in Mexico,” Alvarez said.
Mexico has among the highest rates of overweight and obesity worldwide, with three out of every four Mexicans falling into one of those two categories, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“For example, a kid who’s washing windshields gets a bit of money, goes to the store and buys a pastry, which is easy to buy but offers little from a nutritional standpoint: a lot of energy from sugar and fat. In rural areas, the correlation between malnutrition and overweight is alarming,” the expert said.
The Cuautitlan Izcalli Food Bank has received a steady flow of private donations during the quarantine and last week those supplies included several tons of chicken, a food item that it cannot always provide.
Hundreds of companies have been pitching in to mitigate the economic effects of the quarantine.
And for many of them the transaction is a win-win, since it is cheaper for them to donate food they are unable to sell than to destroy it.
Angeles Escalera, the director of that food bank in Mexico state, said all of the donations are more than welcome.
“You don’t have to look at other countries. We’re experiencing it right here in Mexico. We Mexicans love to help and it’s incredible, but there are people who don’t know what a yogurt is, who don’t know that pan relleno (stuffed bread) exists,” she said.