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'Social fridges' open as poverty rises

By Agence France Presse Inbuenosaires,argentina (China Daily) Updated: 2016-05-12 08:29

 'Social fridges' open as poverty rises

Maria Belen Aragon (left) gives food from her socalled “social fridge” to poor and homeless people at her restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last month. Economic hardship has led individuals to set up the refrigerators where food is placed for the needy to take. Juan Mabromata / Agence France Presse

More than 34 percent of nation's 40 million people live in poverty

With hardship rising due to job cuts and inflation, Argentina has adopted a scheme from Europe's economic crisis: putting food in outdoor "social fridges" for the needy.

"I was sick of seeing how food got thrown away and then shortly afterward people were foraging for it" in the trash, said Luis Pondal, a restaurant owner in the northern city of Tucuman.

"I said to myself, 'Why not give it to them with dignity?"

So-called social or solidarity fridges, where people leave food for those who need it, popped up in countries such as Spain and Germany in recent years during the recession in Europe.

Now the trend has spread to Argentina, one of Latin America's richer nations.

Pondal launched his fridge in February and says there are now at least 50 others around the country. In one case, a vet even set up a fridge for pets, he said.

With its countless fields and livestock, Argentina is one of the world's biggest food producers.

But with inflation close to 40 percent, domestic prices are soaring and Argentines are finding their salary is not enough to buy the food they need.

"It is not just beggars going through the rubbish for a piece of bread or a few vegetables. You also see well-dressed people doing it - people who apparently have jobs," said Pondal.

"Eating has become too expensive."

Researchers at the country's Catholic University estimated in a study that 1.4 million people fell into poverty in the first three months after Conservative President Mauricio Macri took office on Dec 10.

It said 34.5 percent of the nation's 40 million people are living below the poverty line.

The fridges typically stand on the sidewalk outside restaurants. One is plugged in and operating in the central Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, in front of the presidential palace.

"Take what you need," reads a sign.

Out in the open air during the day and shut up in a wooden cabin at night, the fridge is run by the charity Red Solidaria. Local restaurants provide ready-made meals to stash in it.

Every Friday, a traditional soup kitchen is set up alongside the fridge.

"The idea is for people not to look like they're begging," said Gabriel Shneider, coordinator of that project.

"They can come and take food without anyone handing it to them. It is a notion of solidarity that aims to make those in need feel more dignified."

Macri promised to achieve "zero poverty" over the long-term when he took office.

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