Responding to COVID-19 food insecurity in São Paulo - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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A volunteer with the Street Network Project distributes food to a man experiencing homelessness in São Paulo, Brazil.

The line starts early in the morning with more than a thousand people who come for lunch with the Street Network Project in São Paulo. Joanne Blaney and Margarita Durán volunteer with this project, which provides more than 2,000 lunches in three sites seven days a week to people who live on the street. 55% of the Brazilian population face food insecurity, with millions of Brazilians experiencing hunger as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which continues to worsen each day.

Statistics of the municipal government of São Paulo indicate that almost 25,000 people are in situations of homelessness on the streets of the city. Faith-based projects and NGOs say that the numbers are closer to 50,000.

After the United States, Brazil, with more than 400,000 deaths, has the world’s second highest COVID-19 death toll. Paraíba and São Paulo, where Maryknoll lay missioners work, have high levels of unemployment and coronavirus deaths. In the state of São Paulo alone, as of May 2, 2021, almost 100,000 deaths have occurred. The entire health system in Brazil is on the verge of collapse with a shortage of beds, vaccines, oxygen, ventilators, etc.

This scenario is complicated by national leaders, especially the president, who, since the beginning of the pandemic have resisted calling for health measures. A lack of government support and aid for social, educational and economic programs has increased the inequality in the country. Political in-fighting, especially on the federal level, has led to division among the population, high inflation and unemployment. Almost 20 million students have not participated in any school work/activities since March 2020, and 46 million Brazilians do not have internet access.

However, there are points of hope in this difficult context. There is a popular call to unity that expresses Brazilians’ sense of solidarity, “Ninguém solta a mão de ninguém,” “No one lets go of anyone’s hand.”

This sense of solidarity and active hope is evident in the volunteer work of Brazilians in this crisis as well as their advocacy to change unjust structure and improve public policies.

Mother’s Day is a day of celebration in Brazil. This year, we honor the many women/mothers who live alone or with their families on the street. In spite of incredible suffering and mistreatment, they continue their struggles for their children, for employment and housing.

We give tribute, as well, to Our Lady of Aparecida, patroness of Brazil, and all the “Marias” seen in the photos accompanying this article. They do not give up and continue with faith, solidarity and hope. We unite with them in solidarity, holding hands and working for services and true justice!


“Marias” (clockwise from top): waiting in line for food; awaiting lunch and taking a moment of rest from the cold sidewalk; summoning others to help distribute food and hygiene supplies; and waiting hopefully, after receiving new clothes and masks.

Joanne Blaney
A Maryknoll lay missioner since 1991, Joanne works in restorative justice, violence prevention and popular education at the Popular Education and Human Rights Center in São Paulo, Brazil. She also works in outreach with people experiencing homelessness.