BUENOS AIRES – One of hundreds of Argentines waiting in line at a soup kitchen in Buenos Aires said he had never before been forced to seek out a free meal.
“It’s the first time I’ve come to a soup kitchen to ask for food. Never in my life was I (in this position),” 49-year-old Rodolfo Fabian Sanchez said while waiting at the Maria Mazzarello meal center, which is finding itself overwhelmed with people amid the South American country’s severe economic crisis.
Record numbers of hungry individuals are arriving at that soup kitchen in Buenos Aires’ Almagro neighborhood, which somehow is managing to feed around 600 people a day even though the supplies they receive from the Buenos Aires government are intended for only 320.
“We make (the food go further) with rice and potatoes so people eat well. We really have half the food; we have to invent the rest ourselves,” said Cristian Gorosito, one of the cooks at Maria Mazzarello, popularly known as the “Mafalda eatery.”
While Sanchez waits with bowl in hand for lentil soup for himself and his wife and daughter, he told EFE that he lives in a hotel, owes two months of rent and has not been able to find a job.
According to Gorosito, many unemployed Argentines who initially had misgivings about seeking food at a soup kitchen “no longer feel any shame because they’re hungry.”
Over the past year, Argentina’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by 2.5 percent even as consumer prices have risen by 47.6 percent – the highest inflation rate in 27 years.
The Argentine peso, meanwhile, continues to fall relative to the United States dollar on a daily basis.
As a result, a study by the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina found that the percentage of people in the South American country who frequently experience hunger rose from 6.2 percent in 2017 to 7.9 percent last year.
A 60-year-old man who has been frequenting that establishment for a while but preferred not to identify himself said it is a shame that people are going hungry in a country that produces food for more than 400 million people worldwide.
Meal beneficiaries at Maria Mazzarello include homeless people who eat from bowls on the sidewalk and typically return later in the day in search of more food, as well as families of people young and old who receive the servings in their own containers and consume them at home.
According to Gorosito, that latter group has increased the most over the past year because their earnings are often sufficient to cover the cost of rent but not food.
He also said other soup kitchens in the area have been forced to close due in part to a crisis-triggered drop in donations from local residents.
On Buenos Aires’ south side, the San Jose de Caritas Solidarity Center provides food and shelter to around 310 people and over the past year has seen “enormous growth” in the number of visitors they serve, its coordinator, Daniel Cuicchi, told EFE.
“Demand (typically) drops a little in the (South American) summer because many of the homeless people, who are the majority of the people we serve, do ... some type of informal work like selling flowers or parking cars, those types of things, on the Atlantic coast,” Cuicchi said.
But demand in the summer months doubled this year as opposed to falling, the coordinator said.
The San Jose de Caritas Solidarity Center opened in early 2002 after Argentina had suffered years of recession and following the imposition of the so-called “corralito,” a set of restrictions aimed at preventing a massive flight of deposits from Argentina’s tottering financial system.
Cuicchi said the situation is as bad as it has been since then, with many people in the street for the first time in their lives after “falling out of the system.”