Supporting local communities in need
As the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine are leaving increasingly visible socio-economic scars in Europe’s society, more and more families and individuals are finding themselves in precarious financial situations. Those who have had pre-existing vulnerabilities, such as people from migrant backgrounds, older people, people with disabilities, or people experiencing homelessness, are disproportionately affected, and are finding it exceptionally difficult to pay their rent, heat their homes or put food on the table.
To alleviate the troubles of particularly affected households in their community, the Belgian Red Cross local branch of Val de Sambre in the Belgian province of Namur supports 500 people a year with a wide range of food and material assistance to people in need, in collaboration with the municipality of Sambreville and the local CPAS (Centre for Public and Social Action). The partnership includes an on-demand, collaborative service which facilitates the provision of support to vulnerable communities in the territory, such as children, older people, people with a migrant background, or families in economic difficulties, thus helping to meet their needs.
The local branch offers a variety of services, each one focusing on a specific need. The service for food distribution, for example, is available 3 days a week and offers fresh products collected from local supermarkets thanks to small partnerships created by the volunteers managing the branch. Usually, while people wait for their turn to collect the products, they have the chance to have a chat with Red Cross volunteers at the so-called “bar à soupe”, creating a moment of social exchange.
The “bar à soupe” provides a fresh and warm soup to more than 35 people a week while creating a warm environment where people are offered a cup of coffee or soup and stay as long as they want to have a chat with volunteers or other people using the services. ‘’The bar à soupe is a place for people in the community to gather, meet their neighbours and enjoy a cosy moment over a warm soup or coffee, as some beneficiaries are not able to enjoy the same level of cosiness at home due to not being able to afford heating their homes,’’ says a Belgian Red Cross volunteer.
As the COVID-19 pandemic had a large impact on the number of volunteers running this local branch, some beneficiaries are now ensuring the functioning of the “bar à soupe” themselves preparing soup and coffee and distributing the hot goods among themselves and other beneficiaries. The leftover vegetables from the food distribution service are used to prepare the soups, avoiding waste which is an important value of the Val de Sambre local branch.
The principle of re-using in the “bar à soupe” is also represented in a more traditional second-hand shop, called “vestiboutique”, where an average of 100 people a month find a wide range of products from books to pots, toys for kids and vintage fashion. All goods in the shop are sold at fair prices which allows people to acquire affordable items, while at the same time producing crucial revenue to sustain the running costs of the local branch. Volunteers oversee the reception, selection, repair and selling of the products in an encouraging atmosphere. Once a year, a flea market is organized outside of the local branch. ‘’The placement of services next to each other offers beneficiaries the possibility to participate and benefit in a circular way,’’ says a Belgian Red Cross volunteer from the local branch.
A sub-section of the second-hand service is composed of more than 127 medical items such as wheelchairs, crutches, exercise bikes and medical beds, which are available for lending at a fair price and delivered and installed directly in people’s homes. Finally, the local branch is in the process of complementing its existing activities with a social taxi service to support people who do not have a car or driving license or are no longer able to drive for medical reasons.
The local Red Cross branch of Val de Sambre addresses immediate needs of residents in Sambreville by providing food through a grocery shop, offering a warm meal for those struggling to heat their homes, providing health-related services and enabling access to affordable clothes. All the services combined correspond to the holistic approach of the Belgian Red Cross while promoting dignity due to their participative nature.
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