Meet Jozef Mottar and Luc Rogge
Jozef Mottar and Luc Rogge © Belgian Federation of Food Banks, 2020
Jozef is the CEO of the Brussels-based Belgian Federation of Food Banks, which coordinates a network of 9 regional food banks from across the country. Luc is the president of the Brussels-Brabant Food Bank. Both are volunteers.
In operation since 1985, the regional food banks provide free food to charities like soup kitchens and shelters that are helping people living below the poverty line. Those charitable organisations then hand out food parcels or provide people in need with a decent, cooked meal. Almost 40% of the food distributed comes directly from the EU, while the rest comes from a wide network of farms, supermarkets and distribution businesses. EU support also covers material assistance for children, such as clothes, shoes and personal hygiene products.
In 2019, Belgium’s regional food banks and charities helped over 400,000 people. However, starting from March 2020, the number of people in need of food increased by over 15% compared to the year before, highlighting the heavy toll the pandemic is taking on society’s most vulnerable.
“The coronavirus crisis has shown that the food banks provide an indispensable and stable source of food aid,” says Jozef.
Belgian food bank volunteers © Belgian Federation of Food Banks, 2020
Solidarity in times of crisis
The highly contagious coronavirus meant that Jozef and Luc had to rethink how to manage the food banks. The regional members had to introduce measures to ensure social distancing, and new hygiene precautions were announced for the safety of staff and the charities collecting food.
“There’s no more socialising or hand shaking. Everyone must keep their distance, wear mouth masks and disinfect their hands a lot. It still requires discipline from everybody to do everything correctly, but people do their best,” says Luc.
Yet, Jozef and Luc weren’t out of the woods yet. Despite the regional food banks remaining open to cater to increased demand, 20% of the charitable organisations they assisted had to close. This was because many helpers were categorised as vulnerable due to their age. However, solidarity turned out to be stronger than the crisis.
“Quite quickly activities restarted with a new impetus, thanks in part to a number of new people who spontaneously volunteered,” says Jozef.
And it wasn’t just the number of new volunteers that helped keep food on the table for those most in need. Many Belgian companies and supermarkets, which were already donating to the regional food banks, stepped up their assistance. This meant that there was enough food to meet the increased demand.
Food distribution at Belgian food bank © Belgian Federation of Food Banks, 2020
The future of food banks
It’s likely that many people across Europe will continue to rely on the support of food banks – especially during these difficult times.
The EU is committed in its support for the most vulnerable. Additional funding has been made available to tackle the immediate social and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. And to support long-term recovery from the crisis, the NextGenerationEU instrument will help build a post-coronavirus Europe, with the aim of leaving nobody behind.