It’s eight in the morning. At Epicerie Caritas in Lausanne, employees are very busy. Before opening this solidarity store, they put kilograms of vegetables and fruits delivered here around the world on the shelves. Manager Ricardo Rocha’s team selects local apples, grapes, oranges, onions and potatoes. Attractive posters show prices ranging from 30 to 50 percent. Less than in supermarkets.
-We practically do not make any profit on margin. The manager explains that our income barely covers the current costs of maintaining the store.
Mainly cheap food is available here, as well as basic hygiene products and even some toys. With inflation rising in recent months, grocery stores have become a meeting place for a growing number of Swiss families who cannot afford basic life necessities.
More than 200 people visit the store in Lausanne every day. You’ll meet a neighbor in a hurry, a retiree carefully considering all the promotions, a mom checking diaper prices, and a student checking her bank account balance on her phone before arriving at the cash register.
For many Swiss, going to a regular supermarket like Migros (the country’s largest retailer – ed.) or Coop (British grocery chain – ed.) in 2023 has become a luxury.
– For the Swiss, shopping here is cheaper than buying groceries at discount stores, explains Ricardo Rocha, who joined the non-profit organization five years ago.
Free food bag filling campaign in Geneva.
Its calculations show that the number of clients has increased by more than 30% since 2022. — And it’s even worse now: we are breaking records in terms of number of clients. The new Epicerie Caritas we opened in Rennes is full to capacity. We hope this is temporary, but everything indicates that it will get worse – adds Rocha.
We stay in the store until noon. Hour after hour, customers appear standing next to the dairy refrigerators, trying to remain anonymous. – Some people tell us that they are simply ashamed to shop with us – confirms the manager, who notes, however, that passing through the door has become a daily event for many people.
They humbly answer that “it is difficult for everyone.”
A middle-aged man pays for his basket with coupons worth a total of 90 Swiss francs (420 Polish zlotys). “People look at prices very carefully and compare how they change from day to day,” says Donia, who works at the store.
A similar situation exists at 21 other stores across the country. The carts are filled to the brim. — I’ve had a CarteCulture card that gives me access to Epiceries Caritas for several years, but I only started using it recently, says Manuela, a volunteer who is also a client.
While impatiently watching the quantity displayed on the display, customers emptying their baskets quickly change the subject. They talk about the weather and news on the radio, and are often silent when they have to pay for their groceries. When asked how they make ends meet, some people humbly answer that “it’s hard for everyone.”
The Swiss don’t just need cheap shops, they also need free food
The most difficult is the so-called extremely disadvantaged. These are people who live on the edge of existence, and their number in Switzerland is 2,200 people. 1 franc for one person (10,000 PLN) per month. Faced with empty warehouses, these citizens often turn to food aid.
In Lausanne and the surrounding area alone, there are 15 centers providing these services. The packages they distribute include some fresh fruits and dry products. “The demand is constantly increasing,” says Martine Fleuré, who distributes for the Point d’Appui association at Saint-Jacques Church in Boule.
Positions open at noon. Volunteers complete packages in advance. The first people in need appear in front of the building long before it opens.
The bags contain products worth up to 50 francs (230 PLN). Each distribution center has its own standards. Here, where we are, in the Vaud Canton, only those whose income does not exceed PLN 1,100 get an entry card. francs per month (more than PLN 5,000). That’s more than 300 a week. 40 percent of them are refugees who fled the war in Ukraine. – Their accommodation and insurance may be paid for, but then they only receive emergency assistance in the amount of 250 francs per month (1,100 PLN), which is not enough to buy groceries, explains Martine Fleurette.
“It’s hard to see families with children ordering food.”
Therese, who has been a volunteer for 17 years, clearly sees how the situation is getting worse. – Sometimes we don’t have enough food for everyone. It is difficult to watch families with children begging for food. what can i do? The city and canton must take action and increase aid! – He says.
Queues for free food in Geneva. 2021
To address this demand, a platform was created in October 2022 to connect all entities involved in food distribution in Lausanne. as it turned out? Although more than 750 tons of goods are collected annually by CA-RL – the food hub in the Lausanne region run by Caritas Food – there are still people in Switzerland who do not have enough to eat. “We need more than 900 tons of different food items to meet the demand,” confirms Joelle Jungo, head of communications and fundraising at the charity.
Tip of the iceberg
In the face of this increasingly alarming situation, Lausanne increased the support budget for CA-RL activities from PLN 580,000 to PLN. francs (more than 2 million Polish zlotys) in 2022 to more than 753 thousand. francs (3.5 million Polish zlotys) in 2023
To increase support in other regions as well, a new CA-NOV food center is scheduled to open in the Nord Vaudois region this fall.
— Poverty exists not only in the city, but also in the suburbs and rural areas, adds the person in charge of the project. We must be able to distribute food aid outside major urban areas, where some people travel tens of kilometers to receive food parcels.
Despite the awareness of public authorities, people are convinced that the waiting lines will be long. – It is clear that we are seeing a new influx of people into food distribution centers. Geneva has just voted to include the right to food in its constitution. In the canton of Vaud, professionals and specialists in the field are mobilizing because food distribution is only a small part of the precarious situation in Switzerland, sums up Eliane Belser, who deals with social welfare at the Lausanne city council.
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