Medellín expats, charity groups in fight against ‘hunger pandemic’

By Jeffrey Kitt June 25, 2020

Each passing day of mandated quarantine is another without income for scores of informal workers and their families in the city of eternal spring, Medellín. Despite the city emerging as a “surprise pioneer” in containing the virus, official unemployment in the metro area is at its highest point in almost two decades – 17.3 percent – and many families remain without proper resources four months into lockdown.

Increased unemployment means that many from lower estrato neighborhoods are not able to buy enough to eat, while others are forced to find cheaper food that is less nutritious. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Antioquian capital is evident at the day-rate motels where street vendors and other informal laborers reside with their families.

Red flags, which have come to symbolize a desperate call for aid, hang from the windows of most accommodation providers and low-income homes.

These literal “red flags”, however, are not always answered. While Colombia and other countries in the region have increased social assistance to millions living in poverty, the situation is growing increasingly desperate for those who need to sell goods or perform in-person services to make a living. Two homeless care centers in the city have already reached maximum capacity while temporary shelters face large demand. Aid from official channels, meanwhile, simply is not coming fast enough for many of those living in barrios populares.

For the moment, the most vulnerable are relying on the selfless energies of others and a mix of private and public support to survive this “new normal.”

During the quarantine, American Jim Glade and Colombian Harold Smith Henao made the decision to raise funding and work with friends and neighbors to deliver food to hundreds of hungry families in Medellín. The delivered goods range from crackers, beans, cookies, pasta, and other items. With the backing of expats and local helpers on the ground, the group delivered more than 170 food aid packets to families on Saturday. 

Photo Credit: Harold Smith Henao

“Because of the forced quarantine in Medellín, these people have not been able to work since March 20, and are in desperate need of food and other resources,” Glade said.

Meanwhile, the national government recently announced el aislamiento preventivo obligatorio will continue at least until July 15.

The delivery follows multiple other food drives from the group in preceding months. Moreover, the charitable group has been helping those without a roof over their head. Following the donation of kitchen space at Teatro Pablo Tobón Uribe, the team was able to prepare and deliver small snacks to more than 800 homeless people and those living in hostels around the city.

The group aims to continue for the duration of the crisis in what has become a vital private function alongside public aid. It is certainly an effort which those in informal work – from hawkers pushing fruit carts to the previously omnipresent ‘tinto’ or ‘chiclet’ vendors in every square – desperately need.

Experts predict that Latin America is on track for one of the biggest drops to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in a century in a region where 50 and 70 per cent of workers are informal and one in three people faced food insecurity even before the first appearance of COVID-19.

The number of people in Latin America and the Caribbean living in extreme poverty could surpass 83 million this year due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a significant rise in hunger, according to a UN report released last month. However, supporting food assistance initiatives by civil society – like the one in Medellín organized by Glade and Henao – is one of the UN’s key measures in order to avoid a “hunger pandemic”.

If you would like to make a donation or contribute to their Medellín food drive, Jim Glade can be reached via Facebook.  

Featured photo of Jim Glade and friends delivering food to hungry families in Medellin

Photo Credit: Harold Smith Henao