The spirit of Christmas also feeds

Fueled by the crisis, charity giving is booming this festive season Schools, colleges and private organizations are all collecting food to help the needy

A member of the skating association Rolleando during a charity promotional video shoot last Saturday
A member of the skating association Rolleando during a charity promotional video shoot last SaturdayANDRÉS SARRIÁ SANGUINO

The holiday season always seems to awaken the spirit of giving in many people, but with Spain in the throes of a desperate economic crisis, charity events are stepping up more than ever this year. Besides the usual campaigns by non-profit organizations such as Cáritas and the Madrid Food Bank, this year has seen a rise in individual initiatives, most often by school and college students, but also by sports associations and private companies.

The donations have been flowing so freely, in fact, that the main food banks are finding themselves inundated. "There are a lot of good intentions out there, and they are certainly welcome, but this December we've gone crazy trying to organize so many volunteers," said a spokesperson for the Madrid Food Bank.

Solidarity can sometimes go hand in hand with advertising and good reviews. In late November, Starbucks launched a campaign offering a hot drink in exchange for a package of non-perishable food. Trading coffee or chocolate for a contribution for the needy has raised the popularity of the food and drink chain. There are many other examples of companies with similar campaigns.

This December we've gone crazy trying to organize so many volunteers"

Recently, a group of students at Madrid's Complutense University came up with a fresh new campaign as part of a course on advertising and public relations. Eighty students aged between 21 and 23 created "Bankilo, the only bank that does #foodbanking" (a take on ING's slogan "the only bank that does fresh banking"). Until Friday of this week they will be collecting food items at a stand they have set up inside the main hall of the communications faculty. For those unable to drop by, the organizers have also opened up a bank account called kilos por euros and promised to use all donations to it to buy non-perishable food.

"We wanted to make a contribution in some way, and we thought that since people are so angry at banks, it would capture their attention to put the spotlight on that," says Allison Saavedra, 21, the spokeswoman for the group. "At first we thought that nobody would pay any attention to us, seeing as how we're students. That's why we set ourselves the goal of a tonne of food no matter what, as a way to motivate one another."

But given the impact the campaign has achieved on the social networks in the scant two weeks it has been in operation, she is feeling optimistic. "We are now hoping to go beyond the tonne of food. You have to think big and move beyond your own comfort zone."

Firm commitment

I. Z. / EL PAÍS, Valencia / Madrid

Two major companies are conducting their own Christmas charity drives. Mercadona, the Valencia-based supermarket chain, on Tuesday announced a partnership with the Christian organization Cáritas to bring 10,200 kilograms of staple food items to families experiencing hardship in Castellón province this holiday season.

Meanwhile Grupo Vips, the nationwide gift shop and cafeteria chain, is collecting food from clients at drop-off points inside its stores in Madrid, Seville and Zaragoza. Donated food aid will go to the nearest soup kitchens "with the aim of contributing to the welfare of the community and of supporting the needy who are nearest to us," said a company spokesperson. As a token of appreciation for donations, Vips is giving a small gift to all food donors, while the Starbucks cafe chain (operated by Vips) is exchanging a food item for a hot drink. The campaign is called Mesa para todos (or, A table for everyone.)

Everything they collect will be donated to Cáritas Universitaria and Cáritas Madrid, "essentially to be handed out at soup kitchens across the capital, although if there is enough left over it will go to other areas as well."

For now, the Bankilo project has enlisted support from the supermarket giant Mercadona and the chain store Tiger, and several celebrities have also lent their weight to the cause, including actors Bertín Osborne and Luis Tosar, and television host Ana Rosa Quintana. This Friday Cáritas is due to come by to collect the donations and confirm whether the initiative can move to a larger space run by the Christian charity. "But it's going to be complicated because the folks at Cáritas say they are up to their eyeballs in work this Christmas," says Saavedra.

Meanwhile, the skating association Rolleando, which is not yet one year old, has organized its own charity drive for its young members, who practice on their skates every weekend at Retiro Park. On December 16, Operation Kilo will get underway with a children's gymkhana on wheels where the prizes will be food items that the winners can then donate to a good cause.

Camino Ballesteros is a member of Rolleando who also works for the communications department of Esri España, a company specializing in geolocation and intelligent maps. "The company has joined the initiative by creating an application that shows the little ones the journey followed by the food from the point of collection to the parishes and soup kitchens, and the whole thing is presented like a comic strip," explains Ballesteros.

Beyond collecting food, last Saturday skaters recorded a video in which the obstacles they normally use in their classes become kilos of food.

"Besides getting all of Retiro Park in on this, we at Rolleando want to raise awareness about the importance of donating food at times other than Christmas. Each day, more and more people are in need of it."

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