Food for Lisbon's Poor

by Kathy Jones on  November 26, 2011 at 3:23 PM Lifestyle News   - G J E 4
Hunter Halder has donned a pale blue suit, white Panama hat and matching trainers as he hops on his bicycle. This is before he starts his tour of Lisbon restaurants picking up each chef's leftover food to distribute among those hardest hit by the country's economic crisis.
 Food for Lisbon's Poor
Food for Lisbon's Poor

On the capital's posh Conde de Valbom avenue, the 60-year-old American on his blue bike with its front and rear baskets has become a familiar fixture and restaurant owners welcome him with a smile.

In each place plastic containers filled with potatoes, rice, durum wheat, semolina, soups and meat are lined up waiting on the counter. Halder stops off to fill up his baskets, waves a quick greeting and then gets back in the saddle.

"Every restaurant in the world tries to make just the right amount of food and sell it off," he said, explaining the idea behind the venture which he started in March.

"Sometimes they do that, but it's rare. The normal thing is there is something left over and when we put it altogether it's a lot of food and that's the food that the people need."

Halder christened the idea behind his project "Re-Food", short for "rescuing good food".

"I decided not to continue to work for money but to work for an humanitarian project of my own design. I launched Re-Food because of the urgency of the crisis. When I began the project, I was alone," he said.

But the idea quickly caught on.

Eighty volunteers now lend him a helping hand and 30 restaurants have opened their doors.

For six months "Re-Food" did not receive any outside funding but in October Halder's project won a competition organised by the Montepio bank to find the best example of community service, and a 25,000-euro (34,000-dollar) reward.

"What Hunter does is very important in these times of crisis," said Alexandra Silva, a volunteer who lets the American use the premises which serves him as a small office.

These are crisis times indeed: the government estimates that Portugal's economy will shrink 2.8 percent in 2012 while the EU puts the downturn at 3.0 percent, which will make the country the worst-performing in the 17-nation eurozone.

Portugal followed Greece and Ireland in needing a bailout and its progress in reducing its public deficit is now regularly reviewed to decide whether or not its next eight-billion-euro loan instalment will be cleared.

The government also expects unemployment to top 13.4 percent next year.

About 700,000 Portuguese are currently without a job, according to official figures, and more than half of them receive no state help, prompting the government to draw up a "social emergency plan" to assist the neediest.

The growing success of Re-Food helps ensure that at least some of Lisbon's residents have one basic need yet.

Once he has collected the leftovers, Halder, who has lived in Portugal for 20 years, borrows the car of another volunteer to go and distribute his goods.

In a car park in a suburb on the edge of Lisbon, 20 people are waiting for Halder and help him to hand the containers out.

With the food that he picks up, Halder can feed around 100 people every day.

"It's not a big impact but it shows it can be done," he said.

"I couldn't live without Hunter. Before I knew him there were days when I didn't eat," said Celeste Castanho, an unemployed 55-year-old who only receives 300 euros a month in benefits for her and her family to survive on.

"Our goal is to make the city of Lisbon the first city in the world to end food waste and feed its hungry people and we believe we can do that in a year or a year and a half," said Halder proudly.

"The final objective is to spread Re-Food in every corner of the planet." Halder, who lost his own job as a consultant which he had held for a number of years, knows as well as anyone that fortunes can change.

But he says launching Re-Food -- albeit a small venture so far -- has given him the chance to build up something again.

"I've never been so broke and so successful at the same time," he laughs.

Source: AFP

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