In a country that produces enough food to feed 10 times its population, around eight percent of Argentinians can hardly afford one meal per day.
Soup kitchens were extremely common in Argentina in the early 2000s. As the country’s economy started to improve during the first decade and a half of the century, the kitchens didn’t disappear, but they became much less common.
Almost 20 years later, these social enterprises are once again growing in the country, as more and more people depend on them to eat at least one decent meal a day.
"Last night my husband and me didn’t eat, we had just enough noodles left for my son, so I made tea and we had that with a little bit of bread," says Yamila Tabares, a 30-year-old mother of two, an 11-year-old boy and a one year old baby. Yamila cries silent tears as she describes her situation.
It is a situation she shares with eight percent of Argentinians, among them many of her neighbours in the working class Barrio Comercial neighbourhood in the city of Cordoba.
"I can’t even remember the taste of fruit or meat, it’s too expensive," she adds.
Yamila’s husband has a disability pension of $124.3 (5,600 Argentine pesos), she also receives some help from the provincial state with $20 (900 Argentine pesos) and the universal assignation per child, which for her two children sums up to $124.3 (5,600 Argentine pesos).
In total the family has an income of $265 per month.
Currently, for a typical family like Yamila’s, you have to earn $600 per month to stay above the poverty line.
"By the 15th we don’t have any more money, that’s when we start depending on welfare, that’s scarce, and the community, that’s strong," says Yamila.
In 2018 the country had an inflation level of 50 percent, and a more than 100 percent devaluation of the Argentine peso against the US dollar. The basic income is $267 (12,000 Argentine pesos).
A typical working class family lucky enough to have two salaries still doesn’t make it above the poverty line.
Natalia Marquez, 31, is in a similar situation to her friend and neighbour. Her husband is a pensioner, but he also has a job watching cars in a central car park. The Marquez family are also poor, but in a better situation than most of their neighbours who are struggling to feed their children and themselves.
“I would cry myself to sleep most days, thinking about the situation that the children are having to deal with,” Marquez says.
Six months ago the two women, along with some other mothers from the neighbourhood decided to start feeding the children, their own and their neighbours’, a glass of milk, or tea and something to eat in the afternoons.
The first week they put out a sign in Natalia’s house announcing that there was a free glass of milk and snacks for the children they had 10 children, by the second week there were 20, six months later the women have registered 49 different children who attend for food.
The women are now also organising a few dinners per week.
They receive support from a foundation and the political organisation Barrios de Pie, which supports more than 2,000 similar soup kitchens and glass of milk suppers across the country’s major cities. Each one feeds in average 80 children each.
During weekdays, the children have lunch at school. The province of Cordoba, just like most of the provinces in the country, has a programme so children can have lunch for free at school.
This allows their parents to skip one meal, and still provide two meals for their children. The problem is during the weekends and holidays.
"Sometimes there's simply nothing to feed the children with, no money to buy anything, nothing left on the shelves," says Sandra Torres, a 45-year-old mother of five, with three children still of school age.
She says: “A few nights ago we had only five potatoes to share with the entire family for dinner, my husband and me didn’t eat that night… the older ones understand better the situation, but how do you explain yourself to a hungry nine year old?
“Before going to bed, my youngest told my husband ‘Dad, at night we also need to eat’. My husband cried himself to sleep that night, ashamed, heartbroken...he’s a hard-working man and a loving father, it’s not fair to have to deal with this situation… it’s never gotten so bad before, so hard.”
Yamila, Natalia and Sandra all live in the same block, in what used to be a thriving working class neighbourhood until not so long ago.
Under Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s administration, poverty had actually come down in the country from 2015 to 2017, to one of the lowest points in 15 years.
But with last year's financial crisis, and with the government's constants efforts to ‘cool off’ the economy by taking the local currency out of the market, poverty has risen again, to a decade-long record of 32 percent. It has put almost three million new people below the poverty line, bringing the total to 14 million living under poverty line in a country of 44 million people.
Juan and Gladis, both 35, live a block away from Natalia’s house, and have three boys. They also had an 11-month-old baby daughter who suddenly passed away last year.
Until 2016, Juan had a decent job as a security guard in a nearby private neighbourhood; that year new requirements were implemented for security guards, among them a high school degree which Juan didn’t have.
Instead of offering him some time to complete the requirements, the company where he had worked for many years just fired him.
Juan has been searching for a job since then, but only finds temporary ones, such as painting houses or cooking bricks, but as the crisis has hit every aspect of the economy, nobody is buying bricks or renovating anything anymore.
Gladis doesn’t look like a 35-year-old woman, she seems much older. Life has taken its toll on her and her entire family.
Juan says that he doesn’t feel like there's going to be a way out of this any time soon.
He said: “I unplugged the fridge today. What's the point of having it plugged if there’s never something to put inside anyway? Cold water?”