Soup Kitchens in Havana Deliver Meals during COVID-19 Outbreak

Apr 17, 2020 | All posts, Relevant news and stories

Pedro Mejias is 78 years old and lives alone, making him vulnerable to the new Coronavirus. Soup kitchens run in Cuba offering meals for thousands of people like Mejias, will now need to deliver these instead, at least in the capital.

Normally, people receiving this kind of social assistance in every municipality, are poor retired people, pensioners, the disabled and people living alone or with very low incomes. They go to these soup kitchens twice a day to eat lunch and dinner, paying a maximum of the equivalent of 0.05 USD.

However, during the pandemic, which passed into its third phase of limited human-to-human community transmission, the Family Benefits System is helping older people with social isolation in Cuba where COVID-19 has affected nearly 564 persons by April 9th.

“We go to the kitchens, they take every sanitary measure there, such as washing hands with disinfectant before going in, cleaning surfaces and giving us food,” Mejias explained.

The national network of 1437 establishments first offered people on this program or their relatives the option to come at midday to collect lunch and dinner meals, to reduce circulation on the city’s streets, and thereby prevent the virus from spreading further.

And every elderly person in the capital will now receive meals at their home, at least in the capital.

Older people at home

Elaine Castellanos manages one of the 152 soup kitchens in Havana as part of the system that was created back in 1998 and currently benefits some 71,000 people, most of whom are aged 60+.

These older people receiving social assistance make up a small group of Cuba’s aged population, which stands at 2.2 million inhabitants.

Vivian Perez, a food technical expert, told local media that the program prepares different menus in accordance with the nutritional requirements needed for every person’s age and characteristics, including meat, root vegetables, beans and rice.

The decision that has been taken now satisfies one of the old complaints of people registered in the system, of being able to collect both meals in just one trip.

“It’s almost always hot in Cuba… and having to walk under the scorching sun meant that I would only go to collect lunch sometimes,” Mejias said.

“It’s not restaurant food, but there is chicken, sometimes pork or beef, or meat derivatives such as luncheon meat or minced meat. A lot of effort is always needed, and they need to cook well,” Rosa said, who goes to a soup kitchen in the Central Havana municipality.

This system receives food from the State and the budget to buy spices and other supplies that aren’t distributed by the State, as a way to ensure quality, which isn’t always guaranteed, according to diners we interviewed.

The home-delivery service is being carried out in partnership with the foodservice sector, Yasmani Calvino, the director of Labor and Social Security in the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality, explained to local press. One of the capital’s neighbourhoods under complete lockdown, El Carmelo, is located in this municipality.

People who might have had their jobs temporarily suspended because of COVID-19 are now being hired to make home deliveries, she revealed.

And social workers are identifying older people who need food security and aren’t registered, so they can also be included in this service.

“The key thing is that nobody goes without food: they are the most vulnerable in society,” said Lazara Wilson, a soup kitchen manager, in Central Havana.

Originally published on Havana Times and can be accessed here.