Volunteers with Emaús in Torremolinos, in the kitchen. / CLAUDIA SAN MARTÍN

Support in the form of a meal a day

The Emaús organisation helps people in need, including 130 Ukrainian refugees who are also receiving support from the Prosvita association in Estepona


They are like a large family and they give up their time to cook over 700 meals a day for other people. The members lovingly prepare a hearty first course, a lighter main course and a refreshing dessert for people in the community who are in need of help.

The Emaús social association runs canteens in Torremolinos, Vélez-Málaga and Estepona, which provide lunch from Mondays to Saturdays for many people who are at a difficult point in their lives: entire families who are socially vulnerable, elderly people, the homeless and, recently, Ukrainian refugees who came to Estepona with the help of the Prosvita association.

Prosvita is new. It started life as a shop selling Ukrainian products but when people began to flee the country following the Russian invasion, the owners decided to dedicate themselves to helping them instead.

When representatives from Emaús and Prosvita met at Torremolinos town hall on Andalucía Day, they immediately connected and agreed to work together so that no family would be without help.

Ildefonso Abril, the director of Emaús, says they are currently assisting more than 130 people from Ukraine, although Prosvita has confirmed that 220 families came to Estepona, mainly mothers with children or elderly people.

After arriving, they have a meeting with the local Social Services department so they can be given advice and assistance regarding issues such as residence, work and schooling.

Since 1997

Emaús has existed since 1997. It began as a way to help drug addicts, but then expanded its activities to include anyone who is in a vulnerable situation and cannot cover their basic needs, such as food.

For those who help out at the three Emaús canteens, the day begins at 8am, when they start cooking the food. Carmen Guerra, who has been volunteering with Emaús for many years, says the first course is normally something hearty and filling, such as stews, a rice dish or pasta, and the second course is lighter. They nearly always include a dessert (usually fruit) and they also provide a cold snack such as sandwiches to eat later in the day.

Carmen serves the dish of the day into individual containers which are then thermo-sealed. / CLAUDIA SAN MARTÍN

On the day we were there, the meal consisted of lentil stew followed by chopped tomato and fried anchovies. The menu is decided every week, but can be modified when they are told a donation will be coming, such as meat, pasta or fish.

Many of these come from the Bancosol food bank organisation, which has been supporting Emaus for years. Every Wednesday, members of Emaús go to Bancosol to pick up whatever is being donated that week: it is often a combination of non-perishable, perishable and fresh foods.

However, the way they work has had to be adapted because of the coronavirus pandemic. When it began, the tables in the canteens had to be removed to prevent contagion and now the cooked meals are put into single-use containers which are then thermo-sealed. They are then given out individually, along with other food items which are donated on a daily basis.

In the storeroom, the products on the shelves have only recently arrived and don't stay there long, because the aim is to make sure that the people who need them receive them.

"What we try to do is make sure that everybody gets some of whatever we have; we wouldn't give things to some people and not others. In the case of milk, for example, we only give that out if there is enough for everyone. If there isn't, we wait until there is. The same with cocoa powder and vegetable oil...we try to help a bit with the everyday running of the household economy," says Carmen.

No home without food

Along the same lines, and especially since the arrival of the Ukrainian refugees, La Caixa Foundation and Caixabank have set up their third 'No Home Without Food' campaign, which they are running in Malaga province with Bancosol.

Because of the war in Ukraine and rising inflation, they expect the number of people in need of help from organisations like Emaus to increase by 20 per cent.

Prosvita helps Ukrainian refugees to learn Spanish and integrate in Estepona. / SUR

The website caixabank.es explains what each donation is used for and how the food banks can use 10 euros to provide two kilos of pasta, two kilos of tinned foods, a kilo of rice, a litre of vegetable oil and a litre of milk.

Emaús is encouraging people to join in with its work because it is not only in permanent need of donations of food and money but also volunteers to help with everyday tasks.

Anyone who wants to join in can do so, no matter how many hours they are available or how much time want to spend volunteering. Any amount of time, at any time of day, will help the organisation to carry on its invaluable work and make sure that, at least, people in need do not go hungry.