Food on the Table

May 29 2023 | by

CURICÓ is a city of approximately 170,000 inhabitants some 200 kilometres to the south of Santiago, Chile. The parish of Jesus of Nazareth can be found in the suburbs to the west of the city. Many middle and lower-middle class families call this area home, but within the area of the parish there are significant pockets of poverty.

A large proportion of the population are old people who have close ties with the area which, up until 30 years ago, was still part of the countryside. Newly built apartment blocks and offices on areas which were previously cultivated fields have encouraged the arrival of young, more affluent families to the area, but at the same time it has opened up the area to migration from poorer families – in particular migrants from Haiti and Venezuela – who can rent the old apartments for a low price.

“Agriculture here is both a cross and a delight for the poor, especially the migrants, as it can offer a relatively stable and well-paid job to only a few people in management and maintenance, while the majority of the work is seasonal, and consists of pruning and harvesting of crops,” explains Father Christian Borghesi, the Jesus of Nazareth parish priest.


Fortnightly distribution


The parish has been helping needy families – especially the elderly, migrants and seasonal workers – for some time. “We have a fortnightly distribution of necessities,” says Fr. Christian. “This includes pasta, rice, sauces, oil, vegetables, tea, sugar and other things. We also provide a little coal to help with cooking and also with winter heating.” Families who need help are interviewed to find out their circumstances, and helped accordingly.

During the pandemic, the parish was able to help up to 250 families, but the situation improved and help was expected to be provided to around 50 most-in-need families. “The most complicated months for the families are from April through to December,” Fr. Christian explains. “This applies to both finding low-cost food and to the scarcity of jobs on offer. So the project we proposed was to help these families from April 2022 through to Christmas 2022, to ensure that neither a plate of pasta nor a plate of beans would be missing from the tables of the poorest.” The cost of providing these families with food would be around €600 each month. A generous benefactor from the parish offered to contribute €100 each month, and so a sum of €4,500 was requested from and granted by St. Anthony’s Charities.


Schedule of activities


As intended, the project ran from April through to Christmas 2022 mainly with the distribution of food. “In the winter months – June through to August – coal was also provided,” says Fr. Christian. “The parish also helps in this period with the donation of second-hand clothes.”

To assist with organizing the project, the parish defined a schedule of activities. On Wednesdays, for example, as small group of four women from the parish, occasionally assisted by three other volunteers, received those in need between the hours of 4 and 5 pm. A file was created for each person in need, and calendar agreed for delivery of food every two, three, or four weeks depending on the person’s situation and the time of year. Often, contact was also made with a municipal social worker if it was thought that may also assist the individual or family.

In the end, the project was able to help more people than the expected 50. “There were about 70 people who were helped continuously,” says Fr. Christian, “and around 100 who presented only occasionally. Most of the latter were exclusively in the winter months. In addition to families in difficulty, there were three important groups who benefited from aid: the elderly, the homeless, and immigrants.”


Christmas celebration


The increase in need during the winter months was not unexpected, due to the seasonal nature of available work. And in the summer months there was an expected decline as a result of it being easier to find lower-priced fruit and vegetables. “Even people who don’t work, such as the elderly, did not ask for help,” affirms Fr. Christian. “In one particular week, three people came for help, two of whom had come from the south to pick fruit. They were waiting for their first wages and needed food just for three to four days, and then nothing more.”

Each year, the parish ends its charitable activities at Christmas. In the southern hemisphere, summer has already begun. “The last bag of food that we distribute is on Christmas Eve,” says Fr. Christian. “That bag includes a chicken and a pan de pascua, a traditional Chilean Christmas cake. This ensures every family can celebrate Christmas in a traditional way. Where we knew the family had children, we were also able to include a game or book as a gift.”

At the end of the project, €250 remained. The parish decided to hold a Christmas party for all the children of the suburbs with Christmas carols, a blessing for the children, drinks and ice-cream and a bag of sweets for each of the 155 children who attended.


Deep gratitude


“I want to thank the Jesus of Nazareth community and all the benefactors who, with a heart full of generosity, a heart that shows us the Risen Jesus, donated to this project,” says one recipient of the aid provided. “I have no words to thank them for all the help that they gave throughout the year, not only with food for the table at home, but also with a word of encouragement and hope. Thank you for giving us the monthly food, which was a great contribution this year in this very difficult time for my family. I am grateful to you for your help and for having food in our house.”

“I thank St. Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony for the aid received, also on behalf of the parishioners, the ladies in charge of solidarity pastoral care and the people benefiting from the project,” concludes Fr. Christian.


Updated on May 30 2023