Pandemic response in Granadero Baigorria Leads to Strong Bonds and Cooperative Efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought growing challenges to communities around the world. Many vulnerable communities and citizens are stuck in a state of social isolation and economic crisis. Even though that is the reality in many communities, in Granadero Baigorria, Argentina, where the John Deere Foundation-funded Sowing Futures program operates, a group of people did not let fear and insecurity paralyze them;  in the face of a serious food crisis in the country, they mobilized to help the most vulnerable to cope during the pandemic.

Paula Papaleo is an example of this proactive response. She is on the board of directors of the San Fernando neighborhood soccer school, which has always provided milk and cookies to youth who participate in school activities. With the arrival of the pandemic, the school had to suspend all activities. After recognizing that the school’s activities would be on hold indefinitely, parents of the school’s students decided that they had to reorganize to be able to provide more than just snacks for children – they needed to serve meals for the community as a whole. The community needs were great, but their desire to help was too.

The Sowing Futures program was able to assist in assessing needs and teaching how to organize community members. Taking advantage of its strong relationships with neighborhood organizations and local institutions, the Sowing Futures team began the process of mapping and evaluating the circumstances of the most vulnerable people in the community. Paula, who is a participant of the Sowing Futures Institutional Development project, joined the network created by the program in partnership with the municipality to ensure that the necessary resources for creating a community food distribution program reached the school. Today, thanks to Paula's leadership and her capacity for institutional and community management, the soccer school is operating as a food assistance provider for the neighborhood, serving more than 100 food rations twice a week to about 30 families.

For Paula, the commitment to helping her community in the face of a pandemic was greater than that of a regular job. When Paula returned to her home in a neighboring community, she could not help but see the challenges her neighbors were facing due to the pandemic. Therefore, she decided to duplicate her efforts. She set up a community kitchen in her home, where she cooks more than 90 food rations three days a week, serving about 25 families.

“We connected with other neighbors willing to cook in San Fernando to cover the whole week of dinner and snacks so that all 200 boys have a guaranteed meal each day. So on days that I don't go to San Fernando, I cook here for those in my neighborhood with the help of Sowing Futures.”

Paula's story is not an isolated case in the city. Mariela Hernández, president of Jardin #162 kindergarten, where John Deere volunteers developed a community garden project last year, has always been committed to the community around her. With the arrival of the pandemic, she could no longer serve the neighborhood children who ate at the school. With assistance from Sowing Futures, the school was able to provide 20 lunches and 190 food baskets to vulnerable families.

“The food contribution we received was a relief for us and was also gratifying, because now the families are very happy with the deliveries. It is wonderful to see how everything changed when we began to receive this help, especially with the incorporation of fruits and vegetables, as before we did not deliver any of that,” she continues, and affirms with a smile: “Now it is enough for everyone.”

Example and dedication inspire young people in the Maristas neighborhood

In the Maristas neighborhood, in addition to the coordination of food assistance, which continues to increase, Mari Barrera uses her determination and desire to help others to mobilize the network of organizations created by the Sowing Futures program to send food to other neighborhoods too.

In the neighborhood, that concern towards contributing to a larger cause is also very present, and Mari strives to leave behind a legacy and pass along her passion for helping others. "Many young people joined during the quarantine; when they saw our work, they approached their neighbors to give a hand." As is the case of Octavio Curcio, a young member of the Maristas CDC who participated in Sowing Futures’ Participatory Action for Community Enhancement (PACE) training and now puts his commitment to his neighborhood into practice, lending Mari a hand.

For Mari, seeing young people participating renews her energy and desire to complete more projects. "It fills my soul to see young people working in solidarity, because there is nothing more beautiful than helping others."

Aware of the role she occupies in her community, she takes on a commitment that goes beyond giving a plate of food—what she offers them above all is emotional support. And when asked about the benefit she receives in return, she replies: "The joy of the little ones when they see me arrive is all I need as a reward."

The post-pandemic future

The heroes of this story fully trust in their abilities to overcome these trying times and even dare to think about the future. Mari wants to extend aid to the entire city, Paula plans to create a project with a group of women who are breadwinners in her neighborhood, and Mariela plans to return to the garden in the kindergarten and continue contributing to the future of community children and their families.

Sowing Futures Argentina response to the COVID-19 pandemic

The Sowing Futures program, since 2018, has carried out community development, volunteer work and development of local institutions in Granadero Baigorria in alliance with the John Deere Foundation. Faced with the recent coronavirus pandemic, the program team took advantage of the trust and capabilities already developed in its activities to create a network of community leaders and local institutions that can quickly mobilize to assist the most vulnerable families in the city. Thanks to the commitment of leaders, institutions, local government, and the close partnership with John Deere Argentina, the program has already mobilized 57 volunteers who contributed 3,599 hours of volunteer work in the preparation of 24,000 food rations and the assembly and distribution of 862 food baskets and hygiene kits, serving 3,535 people in 17 neighborhoods throughout the city.