During the last week of May 2021, Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 450,000. Infection rates continues to rise with an average of 66,000 cases per day, bringing the countrywide total to 16.2 million—the third highest in the world.
With its health and social safety net systems pushed to their limits, Brazil is suffering its worst days since the start of the pandemic.
“This is something I never could have imagined, let alone experienced,” shared Ana Cristina Corrêa Guedes Barros, Assistant Manager of the National Department of Sesc, which oversees Mesa Brasil Sesc, a national network of 91 food banks across 27 Brazilian states. “The impact in Brazil is devastating, especially when it is affecting people who are at the forefront of social work, serving people in vulnerable conditions and communities.”
Formed in 2003, Mesa Brasil Sesc has been a member food bank of The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) since 2013. In 2019, Mesa Brasil Sesc served 1.4 million children and families nationwide through more than 6,000 beneficiary organizations such as daycare centers, long-stay institutions for the elderly, hostels, community centers, and others.
But though Brazil has made marked progress toward ending hunger—notably the country was removed from the UN’s World Hunger Map in 2014—COVID-19 has dramatically impacted these efforts.
“Many organizations we worked with previously were unable to function,” shared Ana. “Our own team had to stop operations for a period of time. Since May, we’ve had to change our distribution strategy to meet new challenges and increased demand while building back our capacity one step at a time. Fortunately, GFN made our comeback possible.”
Through financial support from GFN and other partners, Mesa Brasil Sesc invested $758,500 USD in the purchase of more than 70,000 basic food baskets. Through a reinvented distribution network, Mesa Brasil Sesc distributed these baskets—each containing 14.6 kilos of food, enough for a family of four for four weeks, as well as hygiene and cleaning items—via 680 beneficiary organizations in 19 severely affected states. Design, delivery, and maintenance of this strategy was also supported by GFN, through a series of management tools, trainings, webinars, and technical assistance coaching.
Sérgio Donófrio, owner of Calusne Farms in Campinas, harvests lettuce, chives, and rosemary, donating the produce to Mesa Brasil SESC, a GFN member food bank. Photo: The Global FoodBanking Network/Carlos Macedo
“It is thanks to GFN that we were able to deliver food directly into the hands of those in need. I recall arriving on the outskirts of a small town where a partner agency representative took us to deliver a food basket to a family of five. They had not had anything to eat in a day and we arrived before lunch. Our staff were incredibly moved by how thankful this family was to receive our support.”
As a result of these innovations, Mesa Brasil Sesc was able to serve approximately 3.4 million people in 2020, a 150 percent increase over 2019. But with rates of infection continuing to rise amidst heavily strained social systems, challenges remain for Brazil’s most vulnerable populations.
“One year later, we are still in the emergency phase of this crisis with no clear perspective on when we will return to a ’new normal’. Many of the strategies we’ve adopted, such as delivering basic food baskets, food cards, and ready-made meals to families, are still producing good results and will need to be continued well after this crisis phase,” explains Ana.
With plans to capitalize on support from a wide variety of partners—from individuals to corporations, emergency services providers to artists and fundraising organizers, Mesa Brasil Sesc will continue to unlock resources and deliver impact directly where it is needed.
“We plan to grow our network of partners and open new fronts of action in order to promote access to adequate and healthy food for millions of Brazilians in need,” explains Ana.
“Our country is very rich in its natural beauty, and our culture is cheerful, hospitable, and supportive. But our attitude is also warrior-like and—one day—we dream of being known to overcome hunger in Brazil. Together, we can do it.”