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Charities struggle to feed the poor as relief funds dry up

Bread lines at a well-known Helsinki soup kitchen are growing longer by the day as individuals hit hard by the economic recession look for relief, putting financial pressure on the charity behind the programme. Parish charity workers in Vantaa also say they’re running out of cash to help the needy.

Ihmisiä jonottamassa ruokaa. Leipäpusseja etualalla.
Charity worker Heikki Hursti says that more than 3,000 people join the bread line on his soup kitche's busiest days. Image: Yle

The Veikko and Lahja Hursti charitable organisation provides food twice weekly and clothing three times a week for needy citizens from its Kallio distribution post in Helsinki.

According to charity worker Heikki Hursti the number of customers has been growing steadily for some time. The busiest days see more than 3,000 people lining up for food, Hursti said.

“The price of food has risen sharply. When we get new customers we hear that they have lost their jobs and they need to get help from somewhere because the money simply isn’t enough. Rents are also high here in the capital and all other costs have also risen, while daily allowances and pensions haven’t. So people have less and less buying power,” he added.

Last week the daily Keskisuomalainen reported that the price of food in Finland had risen by nearly 19 percent since 2000, nearly double the EU average. The galloping prices have not only put pressure on households, but also on the charitable organisations working to support the less privileged members of society.

Pensioners and families with children the main customers

The Kallio soup kitchen is mostly frequented by pensioners, who make up more than half of its customers. The charity is also catering to an increasing number of families with children, Hursti explained.

“I believe that this same development will continue. At least so far the politicians haven’t been able to solve this problem and it could well be that they don’t even want to,” Hursti remarked.

The government came under heavy fire from grassroots organisations for its recent austerity budget, which many said placed an undue burden on families with children and disadvantaged groups. The Left Alliance subsequently exited the coalition over the package of spending cuts and tax hikes.

Vantaa parishes running out of charity funds

The growing numbers of poor are also evident in neighbouring Vantaa, where parishes have had to double up on their financing for domestic aid programmes.

Parishes typically provide deaconess assistance for individuals who have run into financial difficulty caused either by the end of a relationship or illness.

“Young people can’t get work to pay back their student loans. People are also facing homelessness due to the housing shortage in Vantaa. Living for long periods on a small income puts people in a vulnerable situation if they get ill, or if there is some crisis or if they lose their jobs,” said Deaconess secretary Eija Miettinen of the Vantaa Association of Evangelical Churches.

The Vantaa churches have reserved nearly 40,000 euros for domestic crisis aid programmes and have just 7,500 left.

The joint parish council has proposed that the parish allocate an additional 30,000 euros to help the poor.

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