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The number of people in need is increasing along with infections

Coronavirus crisis in Spain

A discussion with Olga Díaz Escalona of the Red Cross. Interview: Carmela Negrete

Food bank in Spain. Photo: P.Lameiro, Wikimedia Commons

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Spain hard. In addition to the many sick and dead, the number of people in need who rely on food donations is rising, too. The Spanish Red Cross is currently organizing the biggest aid effort in its history – within its own borders. How is the situation where you are?

We at the Red Cross receive a lot of inquiries from people who lack basic necessities, such as food. Currently we are distributing money as well as supermarket vouchers so that vulnerable people can buy groceries, hygiene products and medications.

How many people receive this support from you?

In the first two months of the coronavirus crisis we provided direct aid to some 1,350,000 people. To date we have distributed more than 250,000 packages with food and other essential items to 135,000 people. In response to the current situation, we at the Red Cross have launched »Plan RESPONDE,« which is the largest mobilization of resources and people our organization has ever seen.

Is there enough food for the growing number of people in need?

We do not have our own food banks but instead cooperate with the Spanish food bank federation FESBAL. They have informed us that the stockpiles are dwindling and efforts are being made to bring the problem under control quickly.

Luckily we have been experiencing a groundswell of solidarity. Thanks to donations from countless individuals as well as from companies and other institutions including the media, the financing of our work is assured for now for the weeks ahead.

However, we have to assume that the social emergency here is far from over. We will have to mitigate the consequences of the lockdown, rising unemployment and reduced purchasing power for a long time to come.

What is the Red Cross doing right now in Spain beyond the distribution campaigns?

We try to provide assistance to every part of society. In so doing, we have a special focus on those groups that are particularly vulnerable: retirees with preexisting health issues, children with disabilities, homeless people, the poor, refugees. We provide information, arrange ambulance services, provide tutoring and help in finding a job or a place to live.

Every day, volunteers call us or write to us – we were not expecting a response of this magnitude. Many people want to make a donation, to support our organization in the long term through membership or, if they already do so, to increase their contributions. To hear all of this is very touching.

What are the regional differences in terms of the impact of the pandemic?

We receive certain data from official bodies, which we can use to assess the situation in the different regions and thus organize our distribution campaigns more effectively. In the capital Madrid, for example, there are many more requests than usual – but we are on the ground all over Spain.

The coronavirus crisis is one of the greatest challenges we have had to face in this country for years – both in terms of the sheer number of those affected as well as the particular suffering and insecurity caused by the pandemic.

We must care for the sick, their families and their surroundings, as well as for the risk groups and for those who have few resources to protect themselves. Added to that are the people in hospitals and care facilities, who in a sense are on the front lines in the fight against the virus.

The feeling is spreading that the whole of society will suffer directly or indirectly from the pandemic. The coronavirus not only attacks the immune system; it also puts social cohesion to the test.

Olga Díaz Escalona is deputy director of the social work unit for the Red Cross (Cruz Roja). Translated by Julie Niederhauser

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