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‘Social fridges’ open in Argentina as poverty rises

With hardship rising due to job cuts and inflation, Argentina has adopted a scheme from Europe’s economic crisis: putting food in outdoor “social fridges” for the needy.

“I was sick of seeing how food got thrown away and then shortly afterwards people were foraging for it” in the trash, said Luis Pondal, a restaurant owner in the northern city of Tucuman.

“I said to myself, `Why not give it to them with dignity?”

So-called social or solidarity fridges, where people leave food for those who need it, popped up in countries such as Spain and Germany in recent years during the recession in Europe.

Now the trend has spread to Argentina, one of Latin America’s richer nations.

Pondal launched his fridge in February and says there are now at least 50 others around the country. In one case, a vet even set up a fridge for pets, he said.With its countless fields and livestock, Argentina is one of the world`s biggest food producers.

But with inflation close to 40 percent, domestic prices are soaring and Argentines are finding their salary is not enough to buy the food they need.

“It is not just beggars going through the rubbish for a piece of bread or a few vegetables. You also see well-dressed people doing it — people who apparently have jobs,” said Pondal.

“Eating has become too expensive.”

Researchers at the country`s Catholic University estimated in a study that 1.4 million people fell into poverty in the first three months after Conservative President Mauricio Macri took office on December 10.

It said 34.5 percent of the nation`s 40 million people are living below the poverty line.The fridges typically stand on the sidewalk outside restaurants. One is plugged in and operating in the central Plaza de Mayo square in Buenos Aires, in front of the presidential palace.

“Take what you need,” reads a sign.

Out in the open air during the day and shut up in a wooden cabin at night, the fridge is run by the charity Red Solidaria. Local restaurants provide ready-made meals to stash in it.

Every Friday, a traditional soup kitchen is set up alongside the fridge.

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