The COVID-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on vulnerable populations across the world, especially in Latin America, where poverty and inequality are growing fast.
In Mexico, Bancos de Alimentos de México (BAMX) — a network of 55 food banks throughout the country — is now doubling its efforts to help those affected by the crisis.
The organization, which was founded more than 25 years ago, is now working harder than ever to provide food to communities across the country. During the pandemic, it is helping approximately 2 million people by giving them food and essential products.
With a presence in more than 27 Mexican states, BAMX works directly with associations, individuals, and communities, providing food assistance to those in need.
Here’s how Bancos de Alimentos de México works: The organization rescues food that restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and farmers don’t use and donates it directly to poor families that desperately need it. In 2019 alone, BAMX rescued 120,000 tons of food.
BAMX is also the co-founder of the Global Food Banking Network — with Feeding America, Food Banks Canada, and the Red Argentina de Bancos de Alimentos — Which works to reduce food waste, help set up new food banks, and fight hunger.
Global Citizen spoke to Almendra Ortíz Tirado, director of strategic alliances and innovation at BAMX, to learn more about how this crisis is affecting the organization’s work and what Global Citizens can do to help.
Global Citizen: How this pandemic is affecting Bancos de Alimentos México?
Almendra Ortíz Tirado: When the national emergency was declared, we immediately created a protocol to have a clear plan about how to give support to the public. We mainly covered three areas as fast as we could: We bought personal protection equipment for our workers and started a constant disinfection process, hiring specialists in our factories regularly. Then we decided to buy certain products that are essential for our communities and we were not receiving as donations: grains like beans and rice, important for complete nutrition, that we include as donations. And last but not least, we decided to invest money in ... our vehicles that transport the food.
But we really suffered with this pandemic. Our Cancún storage center suffered a robbery, and violence increased exponentially there, since people need to eat and they really need help. Many people who usually are part of the informal economy are seriously affected by this crisis. It also affected our volunteers, because some of them are part of the population at risk — some of them suffer from diabetes or hypertension.
Durante el mes de Junio gracias a nuestros #AliadosBAMX❤️ la #RedBAMX ha logrado rescatar más de 15 millones de kg de alimento para beneficiar a 1,973,813 de mexicanos que hoy más que nunca lo necesitan ❤💪🏻 ¡Tú también puedes sumarte a esta gran causa! - - #UnidosconCausa #HambreCero #TodossomosBAMX
How has the way you give support to the communities changed?
We work with 4,800 organizations across the country and also directly with individuals. We have 420 vehicles, some of them to rescue fruits and vegetables that we receive as donations, directly from the farmers. We also have committees [that] go and see how people live — we check to see if we have enough food in the bank to give support and do socioeconomic studies to measure in which poverty range these families are. Now with the COVID-19 crisis, we created a new system using, for instance, WhatsApp to conduct interviews and receive documentation to determine if families are eligible. And in case we need to go in person, we go well-protected using the personal protection equipment.
Are you receiving more donations now?
We only grew 10% in food rescue. But we are now exponentially helping many more people than before. By the end of May, we were helping 1.8 million people. And now we are helping 2 million people, which is a lot for us since we don’t usually quantify the number of people we help. That is historical for us. Those are the numbers without counting the waiting list. Some of our banks exceeded their work by 200%.
How can Global Citizens help support BAMX’s work?
The first needs that we have are resources and donations. And also diffusion [of information], which is important because we need more people to know about our cause. It’s important that people know that there are others that need food on their tables and that we can all help.
I can imagine how many important stories you’re now seeing with the pandemic…
Yes! There are many stories. We’re all vulnerable. We’ve received requests from people that need food and don’t have money to pay the rent, and they have children to feed. Our banks are still open, working hard, knowing that they’re at risk of contagion. Probably the story that inspires me the most is the one of the drivers of our vehicles. They decided in the worst moment, when we were living at the peak of infections, that they wanted to keep driving our vehicles, transporting food and helping people. “We feel that we are privileged enough to have a job, and if that job means to help other people, we want to keep doing it,” they said. They’re superheroes!
En #BAMX seguimos rescatando alimento, armando paquetes y distribuyendo alimento a quienes más lo necesitan 🙌🏻❤ ¡Ayudando a más de 1.8 millones de mexicanos! 💪🏻✨ Tú también puedes ser parte del cambio, ¡Súmate y dona! Link en nuestra biografía🍉🥑 - - #RedBAMX #TodossomosBAMX #sobramásdeloquefalta #UnidosconCausa
This interview has been translated from Spanish into English, and has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.