Cristina, 25, found herself facing a 50 percent wage cut during the pandemic and has had to resort to the help of Refood, a voluntary organisation, to feed herself and her baby son.
“I was alone with my son, I had the house and everything to pay and I had to get help, because I didn’t know what to do. I had to pay 325 for the house, plus electricity, water and gas, plus food for my son and his nursery fees so as not to lose his place”, she told Lusa.
Refood in Faro has seen an increase “from 114 to 330” in the number of people it provides food aid for, 96 of whom are children, highlights the coordinator, Paula Matias, stressing that the numbers continue to rise.
“At this time we have not yet stabilised and requests for help are constant. Just this week we had three families coming in, with large households, with children, and we believe that the times ahead will be very complicated, we will have an increase in requests for help”, she stressed.
Paula Matias highlighted the “new reality”, with middle class families now having to be supported too and not just the most vulnerable members of society.
During the pandemic, the institution took food directly to the homes of families in need. The coordinator of the Faro branch of Refood says that she was always surprised by the reactions of the children who “usually shake with excitement”.
”Right now, they shake with excitement over a box of cereal or a piece of fruit. We have witnessed this reality many times”.
With 30 years dedicated to supporting the most needy, the AIDS Support Movement (MAPS) has also seen an increase in requests for food aid in recent months and from people “who are not from the typical risk groups”, said the president of the institution.
“The people asking for help are those who have always lived off their income and within their means, like the typical Portuguese - what you receive is what you spend. When that is over, there is no turning back. At this point, finding a job becomes a battle”, says Fábio Simão.
There are situations of “job loss and eviction due to non-payment of rents” and, in the medium term, the representative does not expect improvements: “I would like to be more optimistic. Unfortunately, looking around us, it is a little difficult”.
Fábio Simão said that the laws that postponed the payment of rents “will not be the solution” because “when the date comes, people will have to pay the current and the old ones, and there is often no income for that”.
The crisis is also manifesting itself in the amount of donations to the charity, which “have been decreasing”, as over the months “neither people nor companies are able to continue to help”, he explained.
Maria José, 48, started receiving a daily basket of food products from MAPS after her third contract “had not been renewed”.
With a family of five, she said that she had never thought of “having to ask for help”, but she was aware of the work undertaken by MAPS, which she ended up using.
Maria, 52, is also in a similar position, having already been in a difficult financial situation before the pandemic.
The unemployment of one of her children has seen “everything being derailed” and with her monthly salary of €500 she cannot afford to pay her household bills.
“If it weren’t for the support of the [MAPS] association, I wouldn’t have any food at home. You try to survive. It is not living, it is surviving”, she said.
According to the Institute of Employment and Professional Training (IEFP), unemployment figures in the Algarve have been increasing since March, with an increase of 231.8 percent in May compared to the same month of 2019.
The General Union of Workers (UGT) of the Algarve has already asked the Government to urgently implement exceptional measures to prevent unemployment in the region.
The president of the union said that it is “a priority to consider measures to support employment” so that “in two or three months”, when the low season begins, unemployment does not assume “even more dramatic” dimensions.
“The ideal would be to move forward with exceptional measures for the region that would be more comprehensive and cumulative than the measures already in place”, said Daniel Santana, referring to the FormAlgarve programme, which supports employers that sign contracts for at least 12 months with workers whose contracts expire between 1 September and 31 December.
According to the union leader, the seasonality problem in the region was aggravated by the pandemic, due to the “economy being very dependent on tourist flows”.