Soup kitchens in dire situation as Milei slashes funding: ‘It breaks my heart to tell people there is no more’

More people rely on them as poverty is now at 57%, but the government has not provided food to the social movements that manage them

Viviana Rodríguez has been running a soup kitchen for more than six years out of her home in Villa 31. Located next to the Buenos Aires bus terminal and a mere twenty blocks away from its most affluent neighborhood, Puerto Madero, la 31, as it is commonly known, is one the largest low-income areas of the city 

Last Sunday, 40 of her neighbors lined up in front of the house, carrying a plate or plastic container — for most of them, the pumpkin, rice, and beef stew she was serving was the only thing they would eat that day. 

But the food ran out before Rodríguez could serve the last dish. 

“It has been about three or four months since [the government] has given us food, and soup kitchens are getting more crowded,” Rodríguez told the Herald. She now depends exclusively on the villa’s stores to prepare the food. “It breaks my heart… How do you tell people, ‘no, there is no more’?”

Rodríguez’s situation is not unique. Javier Milei’s austerity measures — including a sweeping 54% devaluation and a variety of welfare cuts — have increased poverty to 57%, the highest number in 20 years, according to a recent report.

The newly-created Human Capital Minister is the government organism in charge of delivering food to the country’s 44,000 soup kitchens, which feed 4 million people. They are run by social movements, NGOs, churches, and other groups. However, social movements say they have not been getting any food since Milei took office.

On February 1, Human Capital Minister Sandra Pettovello told them that she would not see the organizations’ leaders but the people. “Those who are hungry can come one at a time and I’ll write down your ID number,” she asked. Four days later, a 20-block line of people had formed outside the ministry.

Petovello refused to receive them, claiming that she had not called them. Social leader Juan Grabois filed a legal complaint against her, accusing her of a “breach of public official duties.”

The Milei administration, which has made unsustained corruption accusations against social organizations, claims that their goal is to “cut out the middleman” regarding food assistance. Pettovello, however, has met with representatives of evangelical churches, which also run soup kitchens, and agreed to give them AR$177 million (US$168,000 at the blue dollar rate) to supply their 723 soup kitchens. Social leaders have said that is not enough.

Cintia Ávila runs the Ollas Poderosas (Mighty Pots) soup kitchen in a low-income neighborhood of Río Cuarto, Córdoba. They serve 420 people once a week. The last time it opened its doors, 32 people remained on a waiting list since there was not enough food for everyone.

Ávila said that her organization, La Poderosa, also faced problems with the previous administration. “They owed us one thousand tonnes of food,” she told the Herald

However, she said that the situation with the current government is different. 

The ministry has contacted the organization asking for information on the people attending the soup kitchens, she said. Ávila and others like her from around the country gathered the information but soon found out it had been a wild goose chase. 

“We later found out that the official who called had resigned or was dismissed — well, he was a ghost, so we do not even talk to the ministry anymore.”

“What’s happening is excruciating,” Rodríguez said. “We don’t know what to do. We have entire families sleeping on the street because they can’t pay the rent anymore.”

Ávila said that the spirit of her neighbors is broken, adding that she sees anguish and a lot of anger among them. “It’s such a difficult situation; you can’t even take a plate of food home.  You can’t guarantee the bare minimum of people eating twice a day,” she said. 

“Eating four times a day has become a utopia.”


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