Every day, thousands of portuguese citizens dedicate time and energy to supporting those most in need, a responsibility they undertake because they believe it´s important to contribute to the common good. International volunteer day, an event held to publicly acknowledge everyone that participates in creating a fairer and more supportive society, was celebrated on 5 december. “on this day, I thank every single portuguese person that formally or informally dedicates their time to volunteering activities on a daily basis”, highlighted the president of the republic in an official note published on the presidency of the republic website.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa made a point of highlighting the contribution “to creating stronger and more resilient communities” and says we need to “encourage more people to volunteer and participate in this civic work in portugal”. According to the united nations, there are more than a billion volunteers around the world.
Sofia Raposo de Magalhães is one of these anonymous faces that discovered volunteering as a way of feeling useful in creating a better society. It was at the lisbon food bank, in Alcântara, that she discovered a vocation she was unaware of: the pleasure of helping those most in need. “I feel useful and I don’t really view the work as undignified. On the contrary, I believe it´s important to many people”, she explains to energiser while coordinating one of the many teams involved in organising food donations.
What began as an experience a few days a week quickly turned into a full-time activity. “I started by coming three days a week, but now I come five days”, she says. “it’s very exciting. We´re a small family here and the atmosphere is extraordinary,” she adds.
The food bank (banco alimentar as it is known in portuguese), an institution founded more than 30 years ago by isabel jonet, needs all the help it can get. If it weren't for the daily effort of the teams working there, along with the assistance of hundreds of volunteers and food donations, responding to those most in need would be impossible. The food that passes through the food bank supports around 4% of the portuguese population and requests for help, those in charge of the initiative point out, are ever-increasing. 29,000 tons of food are delivered every year.
This help, which reaches the homes of thousands of families through partnerships with other charitable institutions spread across the country, is essential at a time when portugal has an at-risk-of-poverty rate of 17%. According to official data, more than 4.4 million citizens would be in a situation of poverty and social exclusion without the social support provide by the state.
Support from partners and companies is essential
Intermittent rain, windy and very cold. This was the scenario awaiting the 20-odd galp employees at the headquarters of the portuguese food bank, however not even the adverse weather conditions were capable of dampening the charitable spirit of the team determined to make a mark on international volunteer day.
Isabel Jonet, the founder and president of the 30-year-old institution, welcomed the group, who quickly set about organising pallets and crates of donated food with both enthusiasm and commitment. She highlighted the importance of the long-standing partnership between the energy corporation and the food bank, which is active beyond special dates such as the christmas season. “this partnership is very important,” she pointed out.
The bustling activity underway in the social solidarity institution's main warehouse was a result of the last major food collection campaign, carried out all over Portugal in early december, and which enabled the food bank to reach the target of around 2,300 tons of food supplies – 10% more than in the same period last year. Once again, this success was due to the 40,000-plus volunteers working at the 21 food banks located across the length and breadth of the country.