After three days of being unable to afford bread or milk for her four-year-old daughter, Carmen Morales finally knocked on a neighbour’s door to ask for help.
The 40-year-old mother of three, originally from Santa Cruz in Bolivia, had been furloughed from her job as a hotel cleaner after contracting coronavirus and was at the end of her tether, and her finances.
Calls to her overworked, overwhelmed social worker had gone unanswered, leaving her desperate and out of options.
Although her neighbour kindly obliged with the loan of three bottles of milk and a gift of some rice, more permanent help has come not from the Spanish authorities or even charities or NGOs, but from fellow parents at her youngest daughter’s school.
Aware that some people were struggling, a group of parents from the Marqués de Marcenado primary school in Arganzuela, central Madrid, sent round an anonymous survey to gauge the needs of vulnerable families. Eighteen families replied saying they needed help with food, while four said they had no income at all.
Between them, members of the parents’ association and teachers have been doing what they can to help, turning cash donations into vouchers that the families can use in local shops to buy fruit, vegetables and meat.
“I don’t care about myself but I was so worried and at least now I can feed my children,” says Morales. “Things would be a disaster without this help. You call the social services, but they’re completely inundated and they can’t help everyone. They always say the same thing: patience.”
Almost as importantly, the school group has managed to supply Morales’s 15-year-old daughter with a tablet so she can keep up with her studies while Spain’s schools remain closed.
As the pandemic bites deeper and jobs are furloughed or lost, Morales’s situation – and the response to it – is being replicated across the capital.
According to the Madrid Regional Federation of Neighbourhood Associations (FRAVM), small local groups around the city are assisting more than 20,000 people who are struggling because of the Covid-19 crisis. Almost 6,200 volunteers have stepped in and 37 food pantries have opened in the past month.
Many of those relying on the neighbourhood groups for food, medicine, and cleaning and hygiene products are doing so for the first time.
Spain’s socialist-led coalition government has promised a €200bn (£175bn) relief package and “the greatest mobilisation of resources in Spain’s entire democratic history” to help the country deal with the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic.
The next few weeks should also see the introduction of a minimum basic income scheme to help Spain’s most vulnerable families, with monthly payments of between €462 and €1,015.
Beatriz Moncó, one of the parents who is coordinating the response, says such help cannot come soon enough.
“All this is no more than a sticking plaster while people wait for help from the authorities,” she says. “But while the politicians argue about things and about when the universal basic income will come in, these people have nothing to eat.”
There is a finite supply of vouchers for local shops, she adds. Teachers at the school have already stumped up €600 of their own money, and the other day she bought a family €25 worth of fruit and vegetables. Others simply share what their own families have.
“The other night, a colleague was rung by a woman who didn’t have anything to give her family for dinner. So she said, ‘Look, come over here and you can have some of what I’m cooking’.”
The post ‘Now I can feed my children’: parents step in to help vulnerable in Madrid appeared first on The Guardian.