A message from the CEO

Food banks prepare as South America becomes COVID-19 Hotspot

This past Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that South America is now the “new epicenter” for the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil has the highest number of cases, and both Brazil and Mexico reported record numbers of infections and deaths almost daily last week. About 39 million Brazilians work in the informal economy, which has been fairly decimated by the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. And for Brazilians living in favelas, or slums, the crisis is untenable; these families don’t have income or food. Millions upon millions in Brazil have been suddenly thrust into extreme poverty. Mesa Brasil SESC is the country’s nongovernmental national food bank network and is reporting an increase in demand for emergency assistance by 41-50 percent. The organization’s most immediate needs are food, funds and PPE for food bank staff. Mesa Brasil is now providing direct-to-recipient food distributions and assembling food boxes, meal kits and emergency rations to meet local needs. Carlos Artexes Simões, Director General of SESC, said, “As a national institution committed to the social well-being of workers, their families and the whole of society, SESC has been fulfilling its responsibility in the combat of the pandemic, prioritizing the maintenance of food and nutritional security for populations in situations of greater vulnerability. In Mexico, where the economic fallout from COVID-19 could plunge nine million people into poverty, hunger is rapidly rising. Banco de Alimentos de México (BAMX), a national network of 55 food banks, served 1.4 million people in 2019. Already in 2020, BAMX has provided meals to 1.7 million people in 1,400 urban and rural communities. Like Mesa Brasil, BAMX is reporting an increase in demand for emergency assistance by 41-50 percent. “I’m really, really worried about this,” said María Teresa García Plata, Executive Director of BAMX. “This is a very serious problem because poverty in many cases means hunger and hunger in many cases means violence and other social problems. It is a very bad cycle that we are starting. As food banks, we need to be stronger than ever.” María Teresa is grateful for BAMX’s partnership with GFN. She shared, “GFN is our most important partner right now. They’re collaborating with us to get funds and have been very supportive giving us information and orientation. GFN has been a great help for us, and they have been doing an important job gathering information and best practices about what is happening around the world.” Bernardo Landeros has been the Executive Director of Alimento Para Todos, a food bank in Mexico City and a member of BAMX, for 13 years. Like many others, Bernardo is convinced this situation is unprecedented. “We´ve seen disasters before, like earthquakes, but nothing with such a deep, continuous and tragic impact,” he said. “Food insecurity was already a big problem for Mexico before the pandemic, however, for the first time in the country’s history, food banks are at the center of a public health crisis as a critical part of social safety nets. An increasing number of people are turning to food banks for aid.” José Miguel Rojas Vértiz Bermúdez has been the Executive Director at Banco de Alimentos Cáritas Puebla, a rural food bank in the BAMX network, for seven years. Rural communities in Mexico have particular challenges – there are few opportunities for formal work, poverty rates are disproportionately high, and the culture is extremely patriarchal. José Miguel said, “Food poverty has always been a serious problem, but we have not seen the need and request for food support as we are currently experiencing. Something that is also different is that people of diverse social status are experiencing critical need, whereas previously only a sector of society was food insecure.” Both Bernardo and José Miguel have grave concerns about procuring food. José Miguel shared, “We do not have enough food to be able to deliver it as we would like in the desired quantities. We need food immediately – every day, that is the main need.” At GFN we feel privileged to support strong leaders and organizations in Mexico, Brazil, and throughout Latin America.  Experience affirms that our global peer-to-peer network strengthens the impact food banks have in their communities.  Since the COVID-19 crisis began, our Latin American team has been working in overdrive to support the humanitarian response, and GFN has committed more than $2.6m in the region.  It is thanks to partners like you that we’ve been able to press on. Thank you for keeping up with GFN amid this unparalleled time.  Even as some lockdowns are being lifted, it is evident a hunger crisis is here to stay. Please keep visiting our COVID-19 response page – and please follow us on social media. My best, Lisa Moon President & CEO The Global FoodBanking Network