Coronavirus Society

Pandemic spurs solidarity efforts in Brazilian cities

While Brazil’s economy nosedives, Brazilians are taking matters into their own hands to avoid the worst

The Covid-19 pandemic is set to wreak havoc on Latin American economies. The World Bank currently expects Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to plunge by 8 percent in 2020, while the unemployment rate hovers at around 12 percent.

Three months after the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro continues to downplay the severity of the pandemic — which he has repeatedly referred to as a “little flu.” While the federal government has been paying out a BRL 600 emergency salary for informal workers and low-income families since April, as The Brazilian Report has shown, many vulnerable communities have been more or less abandoned by the state.

“The social and economic consequences of the pandemic will be terrible,” warned Dr. Julio A. Berdegué this week, assistant director-general at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. As the situation worsens, many Brazilians are taking matters into their own hands.[restricted]

Acting in place of an absent state

The state of São Paulo — home to 22 percent of the Brazilian population — has been the epicenter of the country’s epidemic. It accounts for 156,316 of the 772,416 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Brazil — as well as 9,862 of the 39,680 deaths — despite the fact it has been under quarantine since mid-March.

Concerned about the spread of the virus to São Paulo’s favelas, sports journalist Diego Salgado took to Twitter in a bid to raise the money needed to fund a soap distribution drive. Collecting BRL 2,868 in donations, he was able to purchase 2,608 units of soap and distribute them in Jardim Colombo, part of the sprawling Paraisópolis favela in the south of the city. 

“Last year, I organized two fundraising campaigns to help sports fans that were going through a hard time. Considering how serious the pandemic is, I decided to act again, to help the most vulnerable people. I chose to buy soap because it is essential to prevent coronavirus and it’s not always included in basic needs kits,” he told The Brazilian Report. 

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Caio César Araujo Rodrigues and 30-year-old Evandro Macedo Lemos, owners of the Burger K-10 restaurant, are redirecting some of their profits to feed the homeless. Every Monday, they prepare hamburgers and distribute them in the north zone of São Paulo. 

“We started the Solidarity Burger campaign on April 1. We were able to deliver 36 burgers in the first week, 79 in the second week, 113 in the third and, unfortunately, only 20 in the fourth, which suggests the economic crisis is getting worse. We know we can’t help all those in need, but we believe that if every person does their bit, let’s say, if a business owner from the south zone takes care of his or her community, we’ll be able to close this circle,” Mr. Rodrigues told The Brazilian Report

“The pandemic has caused many bad things, like fear, trauma, and grief. But I believe that in the end, we’ll have more social solidarity,” he added. 

In the same spirit, 33-year-old psychologist and sociology student Adelia Rodriguez launched an initiative that distributes food to vulnerable families. Three years ago, she founded Gastronomia Periférica, a culinary school with a social focus, offering job training to residents of low-income communities in São Paulo.

When classes were suspended due to the pandemic, Ms. Rodriguez collected donations and organized the distribution of basic needs kits — including food, diapers, and milk — to 740 families. Through partnerships with 10 organizations in the Prestes Maia, Mauá, and Ipiranga neighborhoods, the campaign was able to help people in all regions of São Paulo. 

“I’m still receiving donations through a specific bank account because some fundraising websites charge fees over the fundraised amount and, at this moment, every cent counts,” she said.

According to Ms. Rodriguez, supermarket chain Carrefour, one of Gastronomia Periférica’s sponsors, plans to create a “prepaid card,” loaded with funds for low-income families to purchase groceries at its stores.  

Corporate social responsibility

Other major corporations have launched charity efforts too. Itaú Unibanco, Brazil’s largest private bank, announced a donation of BRL 1 billion to fight Covid-19, while steelmaker Gerdau and megabrewer Ambev combined their resources to build a field hospital in São Paulo. And in Rio de Janeiro, mining giant Vale funded the refurbishing of a hospital and purchased 5 million tests. 

Many owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) did not fulfill the requirements to receive the federal government’s aid or have access to credit. In a bid to boost sales during social isolation, a number of social media campaigns were launched, encouraging people to buy goods locally and from small businesses. These volunteer websites work as a kind of virtual showcase of local products and services. 

Event producer Elaine Vilela decided to create “SP Online,” a virtual fair where exhibitors log in simultaneously on Facebook to attend shoppers during previously established days and hours. So far, two editions have taken place.

The Covid-19 Donations Monitor — updated by the Brazilian Association of Fundraising (ABCR) — has already tallied BRL 5.6 billion in Covid-19 donations, more than the BRL 3.25 billion recorded over the entire year of 2018, spurring hopes that a philanthropy culture may be finally starting to emerge in Brazil.[/restricted]

By Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is a former editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas