An experience of a Caritas volunteer during the time of COVID – 19 in Madrid- Spain

By: Mónica Marco
Member of IDYM Team

With the arrival of the Coronavirus and a few days after the state alert decree, the deterioration of the situation in the neighbourhood began to become evident. It is a «life-long» neighbourhood, which is reflected in the presence of elderly people, immigrants (mostly from Latin America) and many families who get by on precarious wages. Today, many of them have little or no income. In our parish, Santa María la Blanca de Canillejas (Madrid), as in many others, the number of families requesting food aid from Caritas has skyrocketed.  

Fortunately, angels are also multiplying. Quickly, a group of «extra» volunteers formed to help where there was need and, among others, the NGO World Food Kitchen set up a family meals donation in our neighbourhood. These are home-made menus that can be reheated. This involves the logistics of going to collect the meals every day and having the families pick them up at the Caritas.   

Águeda and I volunteered to go and get the meals, and so every day at noon we set off. The «distribution centre» is in the parish of St. John of God in St. Eugenie (Madrid); you could almost say «at the other end», although it only takes 20 minutes to get there; when there is no traffic.

There, every day we would meet Gonzalo, a great guardian angel and brother of Saint John of God. Always smiling, always running and, normally, always on the phone handling some donation or giving information that something has arrived and that we have to come and get it. It is so busy there! And the energy and commitment of this man. You could say that he coordinates a logistics centre for donations, with enough volunteers to receive the goods, divide them up and distribute them. Among them is David who, to the tune of «Let’s give the sisters a hand», runs to get the pallet (yes, yes, the pallet) of meals. One crate, two crates … and so up to 200 meals, and sometimes more on days when it is possible, because other parishes also go to get theirs.

Once all the packages are placed in the car (we already mastered the technique), we return to the neighbourhood. We admit that it is hard to resist the curiosity to open some packages to see what is on the menu. They look very good: meat, chicken, fish, well served with vegetables, pasta or rice and even dessert. And…it took us three weeks to realise that the packages we were given did not all contain the same meal!

When we arrive at Caritas, we do our little unloading exercise, led by Juan who is waiting for us at the door, accompanied by 5 to 6 well-prepared young people equipped with crates to quickly unload the meals, count them and start to distribute them. Usually, when we arrive, there are already families waiting to collect the meals. It is impressive to see the situation, day in and day out, and especially in a perspective that is not very encouraging in the short term and that we are there «just for a moment».

Those with a singing voice are Marisa who organises everything «behind the scenes» and Nulbia «with the list in hand» who distributes the meals. Hours and hours are spent every day looking after the families. They tell us all kinds of stories, some of them are very satisfied, but… some days there are not enough meals… Phew!  It’s hard to tell people «that today there are none», especially when it is the only proper meal of the day.  

It is clear that the health situation, like the economic situation, leaves many families in a very vulnerable situation. It is at the same time beautiful to see the response and the selfless collaboration of the people who put a grain of sand to help alleviate, if only a little, the situation of these families. But in the last few days, since we have been talking about «phases», it is inevitable that we ask ourselves «until when will we have meals? » And then, «What are we going to do with and for these families? ».

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