Bancosol, 20 years fighting home-grown hunger

Bancosol volunteers and workers at their warehouse on the outskirts of Malaga, from where food is distibuted.
Bancosol volunteers and workers at their warehouse on the outskirts of Malaga, from where food is distibuted. / FRAN ACEVEDO
  • The food bank, currently helping 48,000, will run a supermarket collection on Friday and Saturday

They never stop work in the distribution centre at Bancosol, the Costa del Sol's centralised charity food bank on the Trévenez industrial estate on the edge of Malaga.

The volunteers have been reorganising the produce stored to be given out to people in need across Malaga province and the Costa del Sol. They've had to clear out one of the two warehouses they use, ready to take delivery of 75 tonnes of food sent by the EU's Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD).

This is one of the two public aid programmes that Bancosol works with, the other being the Andalusian FAGA fund. The rest of the food it receives comes via donations from: Mercamálaga, the city's wholesale food market; from farmers and food manufacturers; and public campaigns such as the Gran Recogida (great collection) or Operación Kilo that are organised throughout the year. The next one takes place today and tomorrow.

Because of financial difficulties at Bancosol, this year they haven't been able to use the extra two units that they normally lease to store the FEAD produce, making do with their normal base. “We're going to have food piled up in the aisles until we can start giving it out, but it is what it is, we'll manage,” says Joaquín Jiménez, president of Bancosol since January. Jiménez, retired after a career in the banking sector, has got the hard task of sorting out the finances at the charity, which is going through one of the roughest patches since it started.

A real crisis

Bancosol is celebrating two decades and still supports 48,370 people who need its help - at the height of the financial crisis this figure reached 58,000- but with a lot less budget than before because of a reduction in the grant from money collected through people's tax returns.

The change in the way the grant is calculated, when responsibility for its allocation moved from central to regional government, has led to a fall in income from this source, from 850,000 euros anually to 175,000, 80 per cent less. This has forced Bancosol to cut back on training programmes and the size of its workforce in order to carry on. Those in charge have already raised the alarm: they only have enough funds to carry on until September and they are asking for help from the Costa del Sol community.

Despite everything, they are still operating like a well-oiled machine. It's a far cry from when Bancosol started in the passageways of Mercamálaga. Nowadays, from the warehouse unit they built in 2002 and extended in 2009 to cover more than 1,000 square metres, just over 6,000 tonnes of food is handled each year.

In the loading bay, vans from some NGOs are waiting their turn to pick up fresh produce such as tomatoes, oranges or peppers, which is excess stock from the wholesale market nearby. These charities are responsible for collecting it from Bancosol and distributing it to families in need across Malaga province. Many families have children and need help to get a hot meal.

Fighting waste

Bancosol doesn't just get food to those most in need. Its other activity is the constant fight against food waste. “A third of food produce is thrown away; we can't allow this to happen when people are going hungry. Our work seeks to bring together these realities,” explains Jiménez. And of course there's the environmental impact of all that waste too. “It's the amount of pesticides, fertilizers and water for food that in the end just goes to waste,” he adds. To help address this, the charity carries out school visits to educate children on making the best use of foodstuffs. “ They are the best people to spread this message to the rest of the family,” he says.

Apart from making people aware of waste, Bancosol had until now two other activities, although these have been reduced with the budget cut. Firstly there is food processing. For several years, the charity has been collecting excess farm produce to turn it into processed foods, such as fried items, milk powder or soup, a total of 772 tonnes. This year this programme has had to be cancelled.

The other project that Bancsol has committed to is work training. Although this year a smaller team is working on it, its hotel and office cleaner courses are still being run. Since this scheme was set up in 2015, 321 people have been helped into work, 146 in 2017 alone.

Bancosol's managers and volunteers make it clear that there is still a need for the charity. Despite the generally improved economy, there is a large group of families with few means and faceing continued hardship. “We're fighting to find new members and involve larger Malaga companies in order to carry on,” explains Jiménez.