Portugal has over 10 million citizens and even 21 food banks, which can feed up to 4% of this EU member country’s total population. Their main goal is to fight against throwing all kinds of food as waste and to divert the secured surplus from food distributors to those who need it most – the people who are in financial dire straits and have anonymously requested support from the Portuguese humanitarian organizations.
Meta.mk visited the first food bank in Portugal, that was founded in 1991. It’s an impressive logistics-distribution center in Lisbon, which is the central point of functioning for the food bank in the capital. The surplus of food is transported to this location and then it is sorted according to the people’s needs and with vans and truckst is further distributed throughout the city to various humanitarian organizations. Even though there are around 400 humanitarian organizations in Lisbon that the bank cooperates with, there are distribution points that are dispersed across the whole of Portugal and are further assisting the organizations in those places.
The fight against dumping food as waste
The first food bank in Portugal is now operating with the support of „Еntrajuda“, a private institution for social solidarity established in 2004. It was founded to assist the civil society organizations that work in the domain of social solidarity in Portugal with resources and knowledge, enabling them to take social action. To this day, the food bank is functioning with Entrajuda’s help, but it also supports the first and, to-date, the only non-food bank in Portugal.
Together with Entrajuda representatives we went to see the two locations in Lisbon where the food and non-food banks were located.
“We go to the industry, we take the surplus, we give it to humanitarian organizations, and then these organizations are helping the families and the people,” Entrajuda’s representative tells us the way the food distribution is organized.
We are at a location with three different buildings near one of Lisbon’s railway stations. In the hangar where we are located, the fruits and the vegetables that have arrived this day to be distributed are carefully lined up. Volunteers are helping put the yogurt and the frozen products into the cooler, while several people are sorting all kinds of products in packages at the storage’s central position – from chocolates, creams, vegetables, and fruit, to dairy products.
Dried food (pasta, cornflakes, etc.) the products stored in jars and all other types of food that do not spoil easily at of high temperatures are stored in the second hangar where the volunteers are also sorting out the products that will be distributed to various humanitarian organizations.
“We fight against wasting food. Each day we are distributing around 40 tons of all kinds of goods,” the food bank representatives explain.
They stress that it is extremely important for them to treat every person or family that needs help as an individual case, in a dignified manner and to contact them constantly regarding their needs.
“It is really important for us to get to know each one of them, so that we can be fair in the distribution and to be certain that each family is helped accordingly,” explained Entrajuda.
Nonetheless, the various products that the food bank is distributing every day are gathered in various ways. One of them is the continuous cooperation with the industry, which is supplying them with their surpluses of produced food or the food that wasn’t sold. The contacts with the supermarkets, but also with salesmen at green markets in Lisbon is yet another food source.
The food bank explains that the fruit and vegetable salesmen have leftovers of unsold products every day, which after a certain period can end up unusable and be thrown at a dump somewhere. The cooperation with other food banks throughout Portugal is happening on a daily basis and is continuous, and the surpluses that are secured from certain products are constantly exchanged in order to prevent some of the products to become unusable.
The main work done by the volunteers
Entrajuda says it relies on its volunteers, on the established cooperation on a national and international level with other similar entities, but also the digital transformation that is the key in the process of their operations. The primary beneficiaries of the humanitarian organizations in Lisbon are elderly people living in the central city area that have low incomes and no other family members to help them.
“We have to be certain that all is done with love and dignity” explained the food bank.
The bank also said that the only products they aren’t collecting and distributing are alcoholic beverages. If the food banks in Portugal didn’t exist, around 80% of the food that ends up in their bank would end up at a dump. However, from our tour throughout the distribution center, we saw there weren’t any products with expired dates, or of bad quality, thus confirming that the bank’s mission is to provide help to people in a dignified manner that need support.
“It is important to mobilize the whole society and that everyone is aware that it is not fair to throw the food. We are traveling everywhere and we are talking about dumping food. Throughout the world, one-third of the food is still wasted,” said Entrajuda for Meta.mk.
They also stressed that food banks should be developed everywhere throughout the world.
Portugal is a unique country because it has opened a non-food bank which is a rarity in the European Union. At one two locations in Lisbon where this non-food bank operates, Meta.mk’s team had the opportunity the facility where all non-food products, excluding the furniture, are collected daily.
Among the dozens of high apartment buildings in one of Lisbon’s quarts, the basement of one of the buildings that in the past was used as a parking lot, is today a non-food bank. The whole space is separated into different sectors and the products first go through a selection process.
The location has various items, starting from hygiene products to clothes, appliances, and computers to all kinds of tools and bikes that might be of use for people and families that are in dire financial situations. Last year, this non-food bank provided help to more than 1,500 people but also to various institutions and humanitarian organizations that are delivering the products to the families.
Apart from the distribution of various products that doesn’t belong to the category of edible products, and which would end up in a dump anyway, the bank is paying attention to the selection and the recycling of the equipment that is arriving at their location, both the damaged and unusable.
“We are influencing the environment because we have saved 600 tons of equipment, electronic and electric devices,” Entrajuda’s Afonso Pineiro explains.
After the selection, the products that are out of order will either be repaired or will be moved to a special department where they will determine whether the equipment can be repaired or not.
“The bank is licensed to manage all of these products and we can fix them or recycle them,” said Pineiro.
The computer hardware that is definitely broken and cannot be repaired is selected in a special room and the various parts are taken from them in order to be properly recycled in the next phase.
“We are separating all the components and, in this manner, we are profiting in order to pay our salaries, expenses, rents, and other activities. We have a separate department where we can do all the repairs. So, if the computer needs software or a certain part to be replaced, it can be done here,” Alfonso stressed.
The high recycling percentage of the equipment is a priority as well as the food bank’s guiding idea – the avoid to throwing food in the dump.
As a private institution, Entrajuda, whose main goal is to support the civil society sector, is concentrating on the digital transformation of the civic society organizations. In the past period, three web pages were created that directly assist organizations in the functioning of food and non-food banks.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in Portugal, the Rede de Emergencia Alimentar web page was created for the people that were needed assistance in the supply with food products, because during this period a significant part of the economy wasn’t working normally, and a large number of people from Portugal were faced with financial problems. In a guaranteed anonymous manner, the web site allowed every citizen to call for help, but also to donate or to volunteer in the network of organized food banks in Portugal.
In order to provide support for volunteering and networking of volunteers and schools with companies and organizations that need volunteers, an online platform was created Bolsa do Voluntarido, where the volunteer openings can be searched and where people can enlist themselves for volunteering. It’s some kind of virtual market for both sides.
Soon after the aggression on Ukraine started on the 24th of February, the online platform We Help Ukraine was started that represents a virtual meeting point for Portuguese that are interested in providing accommodation, work or healthcare services to people from Ukraine that need help and want to leave their country.
Even within the framework of digital transformation, Entrajuda is trying to establish a bridge between those that want to give and those that have to accept i.e. to create a solidarity chain where volunteers, partners, and humanitarians are combining their efforts to improve the functioning of the social solidarity institutions.