City Hall locks garbage containers to avoid "humiliating" scramble for food

Some remain sceptical about motives for new initiative

There was an unprecedented image in the western zone of Girona last week: padlocked bins to avoid people searching for food in them. City Hall has plans to put an end to the practice of bin scouring due to the "health risks and social issues involved" and has come to an agreement with three supermarket chains to promote a new system of discarding and redistributing food. Two civil agents will have the task of redirecting the needy to a food center where they will be given a basic basket of food.

In turn, the supermarkets have agreed to donate food they can no longer sell, but is still safe to eat. The test phase began last Monday. So far, the town hall has placed locks on five containers in the neighborhoods of Sant Narcís and Santa Eugènia, home to the supermarkets Condis, Novavenda and Bonpreu, all participating in the plan.

Eduard Berloso, the CiU Catalan nationalist councilor in charge of Girona Social Services department, explained that the objective is to "guarantee [citizens'] right to food" whilst at the same time avoiding humiliation and an undignified scramble for scraps. According to statistics from the council, around 90 people in the Catalan city resort to bins as a source of food.

The plan is to redirect these people to a food distribution center, an initiative of the previous Socialist-led city government, where food baskets will be handed out to families in risk of exclusion. The center is formed by a consortium which includes Cáritas and the Red Cross, and it hands out 800 baskets every two weeks. It plans to increase this number to a thousand to meet the demands of the new program. Two people will be placed near the bins to inform people of the new scheme and hand out vouchers.

The opposition has criticized the city authorities for only being concerned with image. "What is their real aim? That people aren't seen rummaging in bins, or that no one goes hungry?" asks Joan Olóriz, an eco-socialist city councilor who feels social services should be the ones to decide who benefits from the distribution centers. "It worries us that everything has been reduced to simply locking bins, when the real issue would have caused a genuine scandal had it been presented any other way," says Socialist Pia Bosch.

Berloso is adamant that the plan is about more than just image. City Hall believes that all of Girona's supermarkets will eventually join the program, and donate unsellable food that does not pose a health risk. Eventually, it hopes to replace the locks with special bins that can only be opened by the supermarkets' staff. The plan does not go so far as detailing the exact amount of food, or the regularity of deliveries.

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