‘More and more hunger’: Argentina’s soup kitchens on brink of collapse from high inflation

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 10:09 AM

By Miguel Lo Blanco and Claudia Martini

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – A week ago, 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of pasta was enough to feed the dozens of families who visit the Sal de la Tierra soup kitchen in Villa Fiorito, a poor Buenos Aires suburb beset by the economic crisis ravaging Argentina.

But with monthly inflation topping 20%, the number of hungry residents has soared. This week, the soup kitchen, which relies on private contributions and volunteer work, had to prepare 30 kg of pasta.

“There’s less and less to give and more and more hunger,” said Maria Torres, a volunteer cook with the charity, who is currently unemployed. Today there are around 70 families to feed, up from 20 families a few months ago, she said.

“These people are in a financial situation where if they don’t go to a soup kitchen, they don’t eat,” she added.

Inflation, which hit 211% in 2023, doubled month-over-month in December after the inauguration of libertarian President Javier Milei, who quickly devalued the peso currency, cut public subsidies and loosened some price controls.

Official inflation figures for January will be released on Wednesday. A Reuters poll of economists pegged the monthly figure at 20.5%, a slowdown from 25.5% in December, when it hit the highest level since the country’s hyperinflation crisis in the early ’90s.

Milei’s government sees inflation gradually falling over the coming months, although poverty, which currently tops 40%, could skyrocket before the economy stabilizes.

Economists polled by Reuters in January said they expect inflation to remain high in Argentina throughout the first half of 2024, cooling only toward the second half of the year as a burgeoning recession is likely to slow further increases.

The IMF foresees Argentina’s economy shrinking by 2.5% in 2024.

“It hurts me. I’m ashamed of what we’re going through,” said Mercedes Insaurralde, another unemployed volunteer at the soup kitchen. “I can go hungry, but the children can’t.”

(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco and Claudia Martini; Additional reporting by Lucina Elliott; Writing by Nicolas Misculin and Kylie Madry; Editing by Bill Berkrot)