The coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on the health and diets of millions of people around the world. Strict lockdowns have distressed all levels of the food chain, from production and distribution to shopping and food consumption. The loss of wages and jobs has further exacerbated the situation. Families that once were able to buy food are now clinging to hope. The poor are bearing the terrible impact of food deprivation and hunger. Recently, several United Nations agencies released a report, “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.” It forecasts that the COVID-19 pandemic could push as many as 130 million people into chronic hunger by the end of the year.
Latin America is now the epicenter of the pandemic, with Brazil leading in cases and deaths, followed by Peru. Brazil has reported nearly 2 million cases and some 76,000 deaths, although officials say the real figures are probably higher. With the health crisis has come an economic crisis in a region where millions of people labor in informal jobs—as street or market vendors, taxi drivers or domestic workers—relying on each day’s income to meet that day’s needs. Hunger is the crisis in Brazil.
The ‘Priest’s Tea’
The Franciscan Service of Solidarity (Serviço Franciscano de Solidariedade), otherwise known as SEFRAS, is a group of Franciscan missionaries that has partnered with local community groups. For many years they have provided simple meals with coffee and tea to ease the burden on the 24,000 homeless across the city of Sao Paulo. Under a single large, white tent, approximately 700 people relied on the daily service, known locally as the “Priest’s Tea.”
And Then Came the Pandemic
In early March, the daily number of people coming to the Priest’s Tea tent for food was unprecedented. To respond to this emergency, the SEFRAS group, local representatives of the government, the Archdiocese of São Paulo and the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception of Brazil joined together. They created an emergency relief campaign called Life for All (Vida para Todos) in São Paulo. This relief effort began with that single tent and kitchen serving the homeless, the unemployed, immigrants and refugees. With support, both locally and from around the world, their efforts are succeeding.
Today, after four months, there are five tents and five kitchens serving an average of 4,000 meals a day in both Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The Franciscan action has already distributed more than 350 tons of food. Additionally, they have handed out 15,000 monthly basic baskets, box lunches and thousands of blankets, hygiene and protection kits. Recently, the 500,000th meal was delivered. This program’s current success was made possible thanks to the commitment of thousands of donors and over 500 volunteers.
Hunger is the Crisis
As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic ravage Latin America, the Franciscans and others will continue to support our sisters and brothers in need. Hunger is the crisis in Brazil. With your help, we will persevere in sharing God’s love, serving food and bringing hope. We urgently need your support to ensure that our Franciscan missionaries have the resources needed to help the poor survive this pandemic. Together, we can support our sisters and brothers. Any gift you send would be a blessing. Your generosity reflects God’s mercy. Please make a generous gift during this time of need.
Thank you and may God bless you,
Br. Andrew Brophy, OFM
Executive Director of Franciscan Missions
P.S. Please be as generous today as your heart leads you and your resources allow. Your every gift reflects your compassion for the poor in the missions.