Crisis-hit Spaniards revive community spirit

Austerity-hit people are fighting back with a free food distribution scheme that relies on a co-operative effort.

The austerity-hit people of Spain are fighting back with a free food distribution scheme that relies on a co-operative effort between neighbourhood shopkeepers and local volunteers. I joined them on the road…

Through the streets of Aluche, a working class district in the Spanish capital, Madrid, the volunteers set out on their collection round.

Diego Gutierrez and Raquel Boca first met on demonstrations of the indignados, the Spanish protest movement. Their anger at the hardship caused by the economic crisis has now turned into practical help – collecting food donations from shopkeepers, then passing it on to those most in need.

The shopkeepers don’t see it as charity, more a community effort with mutual benefits, helping people who previously helped them build their business.

Shopkeeper, Jose Vigil told me: “What I’m doing, anyone could do. Helping people who need it. If I was in their situation, I like to think someone would do the same for me.”

The morning round visits several stores.

In return, the volunteers publicise the shops on local radio urging people to buy from them.

Raquel Boca, says “people are starting to co-operate more because they can see that what we do reaches its target. It’s making people think about new ways to help”.

After the goods have been packed they end up at a distribution point in the local park. Many families would despair if it wasn’t for this initiative.

This is direct action – and it’s a movement that’s growing.

Around Europe, there are similar efforts. Sometimes the big supermarkets are reluctant to co-operate but some have been persuaded to take part, perhaps sensing a public relations opportunity.

The volunteers don’t care about motives. Their concern is getting food to the hungry. It’s an unexpected result of the economic crisis in a part of the world regarded as the land of plenty.

For many it still is, of course, but more and more people here are falling through the welfare net. Cash strapped governments, like the Spanish, are cutting back drastically.

Out of this, sometimes, springs a new spirit. Perhaps one that people had forgotten in times of relative affluence. I think this is what we witnessed in Aluche, Madrid.

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