Partnering During a Pandemic: Daily Bread
"Give us this day our daily bread."
For me, and for many or most who are reading this story, the struggle for daily bread has not been a literal experience in our lives. Maybe we have not had sufficient resources to purchase food for two weeks at a time. Maybe we have not had sufficient resources to purchase what we want. Maybe we have clipped coupons and purchased only sale items. Maybe we have been helped out for a time by our family, our community or our government. Maybe, with the current situation, now is the time when we are rationing our food, scaling back a bit, or relying on some help. Most of us who are reading this story, I am guessing, have not literally had to work all day to figure out how to literally put the bread or the tortillas on the table for our family at the end of the day.
Poverty and hunger are real in every country, every community, every church in the world, but in the context of this story, I am thinking about the struggle for daily bread in El Salvador. Many readers, I think, have seen at least a little glimpse of this struggle.
Shopping for food is a daily activity for most Salvadoran families which live in communities that struggle with poverty. A little while before mealtimes, family members walk to a home-business to purchase a stack of hot tortillas, carrying them home wrapped in a cotton towel. Children run to the store with a few coins to pick up an onion or two eggs or a little baggie with some strands of spaghetti - whatever might be added to a midday soup or to complement a couple of tortillas. Seasonal fruits are picked from the trees and leaves off of plants. For those who have paychecks, payday is the day to stock up on sugar, salt, rice and other things at the market. For the most part, purchases are made as the money comes in, a little bit at a time.
For those of us who have sufficient or plenty, we don't think about the ramifications of only being allowed to shop once or twice a week. Without sufficient funds on shopping day, a family cannot "stock up" for the non-shopping days. Even if stocking up is possible, in a household with hungry children and hungry teen-agers, keeping food for the next day or next several days is difficult. If the food is in the home, hungry kids want to eat it. Without refrigeration in a hot climate, certain foods (and leftovers) cannot be kept for more than a day.
A few days ago, I asked a friend in El Salvador to describe the shopping situation under the Covid-19 lock-down. She said the Super is open, the market in the town nearby is open, and mostly the little stores in the community are open. The only items for sale are food and cleaning supplies and medicine in the pharmacies. She has authorization to shop for her family, and could take the bus while wearing a mask and keeping a distance. She could go out two times per week. In her very large household, one adult has an essential job and is working. She did receive the initial government assistance of $300 more than a month ago, and that is long gone. She got a little rice and instant potatoes from a local effort. At one point she got a bag of potatoes from a friend. As a family, they are sewing face masks with resources they had in the house, and selling them for $1 each. They did get to the point of having no food and no money, but then a family member who has an essential job in the US was able to send some funds to help out. Every day she talks with her relative in the US and prays that they stay healthy. And every day she gives thanks that her relative is so thoughtful and generous.
Yesterday, the shopping situation changed. The buses are shut down. Taxi and Uber rides are not allowed. Authorized shoppers (like my friend) can go out once every 4 days (according to the number on their identity cards), but cannot leave their municipalities. Without a bus, my friend couldn't leave her municipality anyway. Without a bus, it is a one hour walk (each way) to the nearby town center, where the fresh market is located. There is no grocery store accessible to her now. Hopefully the small delivery trucks that bring things from the central market have permission to stock the small community stores. Suddenly, access to food may become a serious, serious problem.
I have been thinking that the stricter lock-down guidelines which began yesterday may also impact the safety of authorized shoppers. Municipality boundaries and gang boundaries are not the same thing. Families chose where to shop based on rules which do not seem to align with the rules set out by the government. I personally know people who have been given orders or threats not to shop in one town, and so they need to shop in another.
As sister churches and friends, it's hard to know what might be helpful for us to do as our Salvadoran brothers and sisters are entering a time of increased challenge in the struggle for daily bread. I think it is important to stay in communication with friends in El Salvador so we know what is happening on the ground. It is also important to connect with the solidarity network in our own countries to learn about organized relief efforts which are in process or development and to offer information, advocacy and support to those efforts.
Prayers and messages of love and encouragement are vital during this time. If you have been receiving little heart and flower and love memes from your Salvadoran friends, that is their way of reaching out to you during this lock-down. Send a quick wish, a meme of your own, a prayer to let your friends know that you got their message and you are thinking of them as they are thinking of you.
Give us, Lord, this day, daily bread. You have created enough for all. Show us the way to share. Amen.