Early on Friday morning, the "Gran Recapte" ("The Great Collection") began in Catalonia, and will be underway until late on Saturday evening. Organised by Catalonia’s biggest food bank, ‘El Banc dels Aliments’, it is a campaign to collect food donations from organizations and individuals in cooperation with markets, and supermarkets to be redistributed to people in need.
This year, 20,000 volunteers collected non-perishable food products such as milk, flour, oil, beans and pasta and sharing them out among up to 250,000 people in the coming weeks. This year, they hope to collect 4,000 tons of food, beating the 3,600 tons donated last year. According to Eduard Arruga, the new President of the Banc dels Aliments, people are more aware of the campaign than ever before. In Barcelona, it began at 9.30 am and, in the neighbourhood of Sants, turnout was already high. While the campaign itself has been increasingly successful in recent years, the Banc dels Aliments has nevertheless been critical of the Spanish Government, which have slashed their funding from the European Union.
Over 20,000 volunteers across more than 2,000 collection points
Across 2,000 collection points throughout Catalonia (mostly settled in supermarkets and markets), over 20,000 volunteers will work together to collect as many products as possible, prioritizing milk, oil, beans, rice, canned food, pasta, flour and baby food, among others. Fresh, chilled or frozen products were advised against, as logistically they are more difficult to handle, and in any case can last the rest of the year.
Eduard Arruga, the President of Banc dels Aliments, pointed out that people need to "eat every day", yet despite this unquestionable evidence and the high poverty figures, the number of financial contributions it receives from the European Union has decreased from 4 times a year to 2. The next one will be in June, which creates problems for the Banc dels Aliments. With 4,000 tons of collected food, they will be able to help 250,000 families for the next 8-10 weeks, but if they can reach 5,000 this could be extended to 4 months. Arruga is confident that the forecasted rain over the two days will not affect the contributions.
The solidarity of Catalans will be the key to “success”
However, Arruga has said that the success will not be that of the Banc dels Aliments, which is simply a "bridge" and a "means of transmission", but the solidarity of the Catalans. He emphasized that the economic climate has meant that food demands have increased by up to 15%, but that Catalans have risen to the occasion and continued to meet demands.
Vicent Tirado, a veteran volunteer from the Sants Market in Barcleona, explained that the opening of a supermarket within the town market area has helped to raise the amount of food donated, because it is this type of food that the Banc dels Aliments needs. Stalls in the markets sell traditional food rather than fresh or chilled products, which are more costly to store.
Among this year’s volunteers are several members of an occupational centre for the mentally disabled, known as Sant Josep, also located in the Sants neighbourhood of Barcelona. In commemoration of December 2, which is the Day of the mentally disabled, they have decided that this year they will help others as well as each other in the centre. Thaïs Robledo, a social worker of the centre, said that they were excited about being involved and eager to help those in need.
Spanish Government, criticized
Arruga has been very critical of the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, which has introduced changes in the supply of financial aid it allocates the Banc from the European Union. Where once the Banc dels Aliments received financial contributions from the European Union four or five times a year, now it is only twice annually. Arruga says this will result in a ''temporary deficit'', as the funding the Banc dels Aliments received in September will not last until July of the next year, and will fall short of what is needed to sustain the community. Arruga argued that they would like the European Union food funding to be ''more regular'' because otherwise those who will suffer will be the families and the logistics of the organisations, which will be unable to provide ''all that is needed''.
For years now, the European Union, which does not contribute food, has been making financial contributions, which represent between 20% and 25% of the total funding the Banc dels Aliments collects each year, and which guarantees the food supply to families for between two and three and a half months. However, the economic distribution is not directly from the European Union, but through the Ministry in Madrid, which has decided to change the number of transfers from four a year to just two.