The promise of hope

From the beginning of lockdown due to the coronavirus, we have grown used to seeing balconies, windows and garden gates decorated with children’s drawings of rainbows. A declaration of hope in the midst of so much sadness and despair. And nature has responded by filling the sky with colours.

A rainbow shining over the hospital in Alcalá de Henares, near Madrid, during lockdown.
Supernumerary rainbow in Madrid.

On Sunday, 19 April, for example, a double rainbow appeared in Madrid. It’s technical name is a supernumerary rainbow as it has more colours than usual. This phenomenon can by explained by the lack of pollution in Madrid due to less cars on the road, but the truth is that it caused quite a stir among the neighbours who saw it as a sign of hope, as the president of the Community of Madrid tweeted: “It’s a sign: the end is in sight”.

When we see a rainbow in the sky it lifts our spirits, it’s a symbol that makes us feel that something good is going to happen.

The rainbow holds within itself hope and the promise of a brighter future. In the Bible, the rainbow is the sign of God’s faithfulness and a promise He made to all humanity. It appears for the first time in the book of Genesis, after the flood that covered the whole earth and caused massive destruction. God promises that there will never again be such destruction.

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant (promise) I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Genesis 9:12-13 (NIV)

When I hear stories of how people have responded to the current crisis caused by COVID-19, showing solidarity, giving their all to help other people, showing compassion and kindness, it makes me think that the rainbow has recovered its original meaning of hope and promise.

Solidarity in action: masks and gowns

At the height of the crisis, in Spain like in many other countries, there was a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and anyone who was likely to be in close contact with someone with COVID-19. Kari Acebo published an article in El Progreso, a local paper in Lugo, Galicia, in which she describes an ingenious idea: a group of women from the evangelical church Buenas Noticias (Good News) made protective gowns out of rubbish bags for the doctors in the local health centres. A doctor at one of the centres describes them as being perfectly sealed and gathered at the wrists:

“They are hermetically sealed. They are great!”

As well as people giving of their time and money, there have been some amazingly creative ideas too, such as car factories or vacuum cleaner manufacturers making ventilators. A school in Casás, Galicia, used their 3D printer to create visors for doctors. Sales reps working with vets donated the gowns used for doing autopsies of animals to health care centres.

Food tables

Because of the quarantine, many people in Spain have lost their jobs or are on furlough and have not received any income during this time. Hunger and the lack of basic necessities has become a reality. Seeing the need, many neighbourhoods and associations reacted by setting up food tables. The idea is simple: if you can, you donate some non-perishable food items. If you need food, you take what you need from the table. It doesn’t require a lot of logistics, only willingness to help others.

With the slogan, “Take what you need. Donate if you can” and the hashtag #comprasolidaria, la Asociación 100% Vida (100% Life Association) in the neighbourhood of El Saucar in Torrejón de Ardoz (Madrid) launched this initiative in the month of April. The response was immediate: neighbours started to come and donate food and on the second day they had to set up two tables. It has been a breather for the families who were in need and could go and get some essential items from the table.

In Lugo, the evangelical church Buenas Noticias also set up a food table outside their building. The pastor, Ana Pérez Lozano, urged the people of Lugo to join in the initiative so that “between us we can flatten this poverty curve and that no family would have an empty table at this difficult time”.

These are very simple acts, but their effectiveness is immediate and they are evidence of the desire to help others. Spaniards have always been known for their solidarity and most people are willing to give to help out those less fortunate than themselves.

Food collection in supermarkets and distribution to those in need

The current situation requires action. The newspaper El País, reported on 13 May that in Madrid alone there are more than 100,000 people forming “hunger queues” to receive a bag of food from social services and the more than 50 neighbourhood networks. For many of these people, it is the first time that they are in this situation in which hunger forces them to overcome the stigma and shame of having to ask for food. Many long-standing food banks, have been overwhelmed by the demand, that has triplicated during lockdown.

In order to mitigate this need, one initiative that is taking place all over Spain is asking people to donate food when they go shopping at the supermarket. Between 15-18 May, ASET (Evangelical Association of Torrejón de Ardoz), Transformation Ywam Madrid, Asociación 100% Vida, Impact Spain and the local council joined forces to set up a campaign with the slogan “Love your Neighbour”. They mobilised more than 100 volunteers to stand outside several supermarkets for two days asking people to donate food in order to help the city in a practical way.

The volunteers themselves were surprised by the generosity they saw, such as a man who told them to fill a trolley and he would pay for it; another said he was going to bring some pallets of food and another that he would donate food from his own shop. Over 1,000 bags of food were prepared and the following Monday, together with the mayor Ignacio Vázquez Casavilla, they were able to attend more than 400 needy local families.

REMAR: Food banks, food truck and working with CEPIs

REMAR is an NGO that is making a huge contribution to society during the crisis. From a food truck outside the emergency field hospital set up at the IFEMA conference centre, to one of their more usual tasks of regularly supplying food to those in need. Demand has been so great they have had to ask other associations to send volunteers to help them out. Every week they distribute food to more than 5,000 families in the Community of Madrid and more than 20,000 throughout Spain.

REMAR also helps with food distribution in the CEPIs (Centres for the Participation and Integration of Immigrants in the Community of Madrid).

As the coronavirus spread rapidly in Madrid, hospitals were overwhelmed, and an emergency field hospital was set up in two of the pavilions of the huge IFEMA conference centre in a record time of just 48 hours. It was functioning for 40 days and provided a much needed breathing space to other hospitals in the city. Thanks to donations from companies and individuals, the REMAR Food Truck (Fastandfood.es) was able to supply thousands of free meals to hundreds of healthcare workers and people working in IFEMA who were on the frontline of the pandemic in the Community of Madrid.

The aim of this blog is to highlight just some of the multiple actions that volunteers are carrying out every day in Spain during this time. There are many more, of course. The need for this kind of help will not end with the de-escalation. In fact, it will probably become even more necessary. I would encourage everyone reading this to think how you, personally, can contribute. Maybe you can’t help by volunteering at a food bank, but perhaps you could give a donation. We need to help each other to come out of this crisis and not lose hope. Remember the rainbow.

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:35-40 (The Message)

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