On March 16, 2020, with the declaration of the health emergency in Ecuador, all activities and services taking care of more than 30 people were suspended. Caritas’ dining room, “Oscar Romero”, in Manta (Ecuador) was also closed. However, day by day, the vulnerability of the individuals and families who received food support in this dining room was increasing because most of them depended on informal jobs that were also suspended. (Translated by Alissa D’Vale)
The sense of solidarity required us to resume assistance to individuals and families, implementing a safe and practical method to deliver hot meals to them. The Caritas dining room project in Manta was adjusted and referred to as “Food Emergency.” From Monday to Saturday, hot meals are prepared and distributed on the streets and at the homes of families who previously used the dining room service. There are about 200 lunches served daily, of which approximately 98% are for families with high degrees of vulnerability.
To respect the state of emergency, food is prepared in the house of the Sisters of the Divine Will domicile of the Caritas-Manta Foundation. The management is led by the priest responsible for the pastoral of Human Mobility along with the lay administrator of Caritas, and several volunteers who ensure the preparation of food and the logistical process to deliver food to people on the streets and to vulnerable families.
The self-management budget is supported by donations of either food or money. The Jesuit Refugee Service helped implement the project for one month with a single donation. Food handling, preparation and hygiene respects the standards and protocols of care and prevention to prevent and avoid contamination, ensure healthy cooking, preservation of temperatures and clean water; the kitchen staff also makes use of appropriate clothing.
All project participants, including volunteers are checked daily, their health status is verified, and they are subjected to continuous monitoring of their physical condition.
The distribution of food is done in 2 ways: direct delivery to families whose address is known; or to people on the streets who, to avoid crowds, organize themselves in lines with the preventive distance of 2 meters and with the use of masks. The collaborating staff are also provided with all the protection equipment.
The reality of the impoverished is increasing, so projects like this one, of “Food Emergency”, are necessary, and they become a sign. With the advancement of technology, it has brought the world, every continent, country, city, or town closer to transforming ideals, emotions, joys, and dreams. But, at the same time, giving an illusion of omnipotence, of selfish individualism where discrimination is hinted at by the nuances of the ways of being and living. We believed we were invincible, empowered by everything and in everything. The good thing was to increase our possessions always, the bad thing was to decrease them. We were busily running after money, leaving behind the true happiness of life, that of peace, solidarity, truth, and justice. By becoming consumerists, we were dehumanizing.
The simple and the impoverished testified to us that the time for “planetary brotherhood” had come and that the conditions were already in place: we became deaf to the outcry because it touched our “deification.” But suddenly, reality came. The coronavirus removed us out of the illusion of being gods. We were confused and humiliated watching the real numbers of infected and dead people, we who, with medicine and well-being, believed we had moved away from death. We have touched our vulnerability with our hands. As the Jesuit Francisco de Roux says: “In a few decades, we will all be gone with or without covid-19. Devastating death matches our stupid appearances. Pallida mors aequo pulsat pede, said the Romans, pale death equally sets its foot on all.” We arrive alone and take nothing with us. We are leaving alone, with no credit cards, no car, no home. We will go with who we were in life, in love, friendship, truth, compassion, or with what we have been in lies, selfishness, or dishonesty. Thus, we will face this mystery, and that is how we will be remembered.
That’s how it is, and that’s how the Caritas’ “Oscar Romero” dining room stands in the port of Manta (Ecuador), like a small lighthouse that sends its light on the vastness of the ocean.