Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Food collection

One of those Christmassy things I do is to buy whatever it is that the "A toy, a dream" - Un juguete una ilusión campaign is selling. For years now it's been a biro but when we first got here I remember it was a spinning top. The idea is you pay over the odds for the thing and the extra money gets turned into toys. In the first place those toys were shipped to poor children in South America and Africa - you know the sort of countries, the ones with names you just about recognise but you'd be hard pressed to point at on a blank map. Places like Guinea Bissau, Malawi, Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic or Guatemala. Last year, for the first time, toys were also handed out, via the Red Cross, to children in Spain.

The headline is that one of every five people living in Spain lives in the shadow of poverty - in poverty or at risk of poverty. Now I have no idea how somebody has decided what poverty is. Is it getting fewer than so many calories to eat or not having a Play Station? I'm even less convinced about the "at risk" label. I always wondered if people at risk of offending included me. After all it's almost certain that when I take my car out I'll break one or more traffic rules, I will offend, even if only briefly. I'm not, though, a harbinger of the ultimate breakdown of the established order.

Whatever the definition is, however sociologists and politicians argue it and whatever your average bigot says I do know that I see a lot of people digging about with sticks in the rubbish containers in the streets, I know I see people with cart loads of waste cardboard on trailers on the back of their bikes to weigh in and I do know that the stories of ordinary people losing their homes and going hungry are everywhere.

There was an article on the news about the food banks. They collect food from individuals, from producers, from retailers, from supporters of every shape, size and hue. The food is channeled through NGOs to people who need it through food parcels, community canteens and the like.

Maggie noticed the news item. To me it was old news. I gave a lot of rice, pasta, oil and canned stuff away last year - even my pal Carlos tried collecting food in the place he worked. So it was like buying the pen for the toys. Normal. I thought about it though. Maggie was away in Qatar last Christmas so to her it was a new phenomenon in Spain. This is not collecting food principally for homeless people or those living in shelters but for the ordinary working man and woman. Your everyday Joe fallen on hard times with no job, with an inflated mortgage from the building boom, whose dole payments have run out, where the family members who were providing informal support now find themselves hard pressed too after losing their own jobs or with the parental savings exhausted.

So we were in the Mercadona supermarket. There were people there wearing waistcoats to identify them as volunteers collecting food. They were sorting the food into big containers - oil in this one, canned goods here etc. The containers were on palettes. An industrial scale operation. They had plastic bags to hand out for shoppers to collect the stuff in. Our bag was ripped and as Maggie paid the bill I cradled it over to the collectors. Maggie was cross with me. She'd paid but I had handed the goods over.

It would be better if people weren't poor. It would be better if the state looked after its people but in the meantime volunteers in supermarkets it is.

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