When solidarity is the chef’s special
It’s a sun-drenched afternoon in Lisbon. In the Sete Rios area, close to the Zoo, the hustle and bustle is huge. The preparation of the last meals that will be handed out that same evening to the homeless and families in need are being finalised. At the same time, a van that has just come from the nearest Pingo Doce store is unloaded. Inside, donated food that will either be used to cook next day’s dinner, or selected to be part of food aid baskets for those who need it. This scene repeats itself day after day, city after city.
The Homeless Support Centre CASA is a private solidarity institution founded in Portugal in 2002 that operates in the whole country, including in the Madeira island. CASA, which stands for home in Portuguese, helps the socially vulnerable, be it homeless people or families in need. The labour relies mainly on volunteers that help CASA’s various teams collect and distribute food and essential goods through social institutions and to the homeless. Every day, 7,000 are supported by CASA.
Talking with Nuno Jardim
We had a chance to sit and talk with Nuno Jardim, general manager of CASA, and this is what he told us.
- When did this project start?
The CASA project was founded in 2002. After a few year’s interruption, we resumed our activity in 2007. Since then we have worked non-stop, 365 days a year, and we’ve expanded until we reached the current 10 delegations.
- How many people are part of this project?
Countrywide, we have around 40 persons working full-time. In Lisbon only, at the headquarters, there are around 20 full-time workers. Our organisation has its headquarters, which happen to be here in Lisbon, and delegations with their own coordination, management structure and autonomy.
The support provided via food distribution is a project we want to sustain, because if people can shift their focus from worrying about their survival, they can have the “headspace” to do other things.
- What is CASA’s scope of activity?
We have a project dedicated to supporting people in homelessness, and a project that helps families. The former is called CASA Amiga [friendly home]. In both projects there is a common basis which is food. We committed to providing this type of help in the frontline, which is good for people and is also a good way to get to them. Nowadays we have more frameworks in place, like shelters and technical teams, there is a bigger scope of action. The help and support provided via food distribution is a project we want to sustain because if people can shift their focus from worrying about their survival, they can have the “headspace” to do other things.
- Where does this food come from?
Basic and essential surplus food come from various sources. We have annual food collections at Pingo Doce stores and we have the food donations received daily, nationwide – for example, products reaching the sell-by date, or fresh produce that must be used that day. We collect this products in the store and bring it here. Then, we do a selection: some of the food is used for cooking and some is directly sent to families. There are also donations from individual people, or from other companies which help with food aid. We have now some local-government support intended for food purchase in specific places.
- In some way, a lot of what would be considered waste ends up being a “raw-material” for your work, a resource you need daily.
Yes. On a daily basis we get fruits, vegetables, dairy… many products that are part of a basic food basket, besides dry goods like rice, pasta or beans.
- Are there many dishes prepared here? How many people work in the kitchen?
At this point we have increased the number of workers and we have two or three cooks depending on the time of day. There is an extended team for collection, stocking and the making of the food-aid kits. At the moment, in Lisbon, around 800 meals are being prepared daily.
- Do you feel there are still many calls for help?
There was a big boom in 2008 in calls for help, but things started stabilising later. Lately more people have been reaching out for help, more people on the streets, more people coming over to get food or other kinds of support. So, I’d say yes; this is not a decreasing phenomenon, on the contrary, it seems to be increasing, and new forms of support are going to be needed, besides food aid.
- Do people reach out to CASA directly or is it CASA who looks for these people?
Usually, people get in contact with us. Or sometimes it is other institutions or even local governments who send people over to us, as long as we are able to help them. We do look for people living on the streets, because homelessness is quite different. Every day we go on our usual route to hand out meals and we end up meeting people this way.
- When did this relationship with the Jerónimo Martins Group start, and what is its basis?
The relationship with the Jerónimo Martins Group started in 2013, precisely when we moved here, to the current facilities. The Group was in the process of dealing with food waste and managing everyday food surpluses. Since 2013, our collaboration has been constant and regular. This relationship has been ever-growing and ever closer. The Jerónimo Martins Group has an important and preponderant role in our activity, because of the daily help in donations. This project’s scope is countrywide, not just Lisbon. We have daily support, nationwide. These donations make up a very big share of all the support we get. From there we can help around 7,000 in the whole country. At the moment, around 60% of our work is possible due to Jerónimo Martins donations to CASA, especially Pingo Doce’s. Excluding the in-store coupon campaigns and donations collected at Pingo Doce stores, the Jerónimo Martins Group supports CASA with around one million euros a year, just in food surpluses.
- What was the impact of the pandemic in CASA’s activity?
During these pandemic times, we managed to keep working and fortunately we didn’t stop even for a day. All the delegations managed to keep operating, but there were obviously some constraints. Some employees could not work, either because they needed to stay home with children or because they were in risk groups and were not allowed to come in. In terms of our main human resource, volunteers, there was a big dent, since on top of everything our volunteers have their own jobs and needed to keep themselves safe at home. We redefined the processes in street action and family support, increased the scope of support, and even had to hire help. Basically, we tried to minimise interpersonal contact, but ensuring that people in need could always get access to our help.