Mempo Giardinelli Foundation


The Assistance Program for Children’s Dining Halls is the Foundation’s response to the severe crisis of dramatic proportions that the Argentine Republic has been going through since the end of the year 2001. This crisis has left thousands of unemployed heads of households whose families live in poverty, hunger, sickness and exclusion …
That is the reason why our Foundation, as well as other institutions in various Argentine provinces, have had to shift away from our main mission and activities.
As it is publicly known, our Foundation has been conducting all kinds of cultural and educational activities such as Teachers’ Training Courses, the Grandmothers Telling Tales Program, Seminars and Lectures, among others. This is also our eighth year conducting the International Forum to Promote Books and Reading, which is today —in many people’s opinion— the most important annual educational event in Argentina.
The present crisis, though, has forced us to pay closer attention to more urgent needs. We are
forced to do this, because we live in a province called Chaco, which, according to all statistics, is the hardest hit of all the provinces in our country; the one with the greatest indigenous population, and the one whose poverty levels are estimated to affect more than 70% of the population. We are forced to do this because Culture and Education are not abstract concepts that can turn their back on people suffering from hunger.
Since we are a Non Profit and a NGO dedicated to education and to promoting reading, we now find ourselves compelled to add new functions to our original mission. We are compelled because there cannot be any kind of education, there cannot be any future readers if children are not provided with the basic nutrients, vitamins and minerals that they need to grow healthily.
That is the reason why we began assisting several children’s dining halls in the poorest neighboring suburbs of Resistencia, the capital of our province, around the middle of the year 2002. These dining halls provide food to undernourished children, who have been either abandoned, or whose families are unable to feed.
At this point we find ourselves in a position in which not only can we not stop with this assistance, but we also find our Assistance Program for Children’s Dining Halls has proven to be so effective that it reaches hundreds of kids in Chaco.

Who benefit from our program?

According to official reports and several private entities, 70% of the population in Chaco can be catalogued as BNU, i.e. people with their Basic Needs Unsatisfied. These statistics place Chaco as the third poorest province in Argentina, after Formosa and Corrientes, its two neighbors.
As a consequence of the present crisis, in the area known as Gran Resistencia (Resistencia suburbs) the structural poor (those that have always been poor), and the ethnic minorities (natives from the Toba and Wichi tribes, excluded not only from a linguistic and cultural standpoint, but also as members of the work force) have been joined by a numerous and complex mass of people: the so called New Poor.
This group of people is conformed mainly by middle class families descended from Italian and Spanish immigrants, who had to lower their standard of living as a consequence of having lost their regular income, and ended up in the abyss of exclusion too. These are people who used to enjoy relative work stability. They are now unemployed, and crumbling emotionally, educationally and culturally. Many of them are actually going through desperate situations.
According to the results of the latest household poll conducted by the INDEC (National Institute of Census and Statistics) there are 1,272,000 youths between the ages of 15 and 24 years old in Argentina who are totally inactive: they do not work, they do not study, and they are not looking for a job either. 29,000 of these youths live in Chaco, making it the second province in the country with that type of situation.
This “generates a long term crisis system —like sociologist Artemio López has said—. There are kids who were 15 years old in 1994, when high unemployment rates began, who are now 24. They have never had a job. This generation will live for 50 years or more. Consequently, if no solutions are found, the problem will extend for half a century”.
This is the context in which our Foundation has been carrying out its cultural work. This is the context in which through its Assistance Program for Children’s Dining Halls it is trying to provide relief to many families overwhelmed by the crisis or simply dismembered. This is the reason why providing food, merchandise and first quality milk to the early childhood population has become our most urgent and principal task. Culture and education in general, and reading in particular are inevitably linked to social issues, because of circumstances and because we all believe that solidarity makes sense and that it is possible, necessary and urgent to put it into practice in Argentina these days.

How does the program work?

Our Foundation receives donations from individual and legal entities, i.e. institutions, companies, and individual contributors both from Argentina and abroad. The monetary funds are administered on a monthly basis to ensure the stable provision of food to the so called Milk Scooping Halls, as well as Children´s Dining Halls attended by boys and girls with varying degrees of basic unsatisfied needs and/or malnutrition.
These Halls and Diners are neighbors or groups of unemployed mothers’ undertakings. We know and can give faith that they are in no way related to political parties or religious sects. They are generally located in private residences or community halls located in the poorest sections of the peripheral neighborhoods in Resistencia, or others close to catholic churches. These halls are run by many voluntary workers, who prepare breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon snack, and distribute portions, without asking for anything in return.
The Assistance Program for Children’s Dining Halls works as follows:
a) the Foundation spots existing children’s dining halls (these have been created and are supported by other persons and entities) and evaluates whether the people in charge of running them are independent, and how good their services are;
b) in some cases, when there are no existing children’s dining halls and we detect the existence of undernourished children, the Foundation itself promotes its creation and opening;
c) in every case, and depending on the funds available, there is a six month trial period during which the Foundation provides a certain amount of food, generally rice, mate (Argentine tea) sugar, oil, noodles, canned vegetables, and, above all, top quality powdered milk monthly.
d) after six months, the Foundation evaluates whether to continue, increase or decrease its assistance.
e) We keep a meticulous record, available to all donors, of all that is given to us or that we give out. Lists of all the beneficiaries, including their full name, age, ID number and grade level are kept and updated.

How much has been done so far?

As from the set up date on July 9th 2002, the Foundation has distributed around two tons of food to the following dining halls and infant milk providers:
Copeo Infantil Maná, from Villa Río Negro.
Casa del Sol “María Elena Walsh”, from Juan Domingo Perón neighborhood.
Comedor Santa Clara de Asís, from Santa Clara neighborhood, Villa Ávalos.
Comedor San José Obrero, from Provincias Unidas neighborhood (supported by Cáritas Argentina).
Comedor Espíritu Santo, from Santa Ana neighborhood (supported by Cáritas Argentina).
Comedor Madre Teresa de Calcuta, from Paso de la Patria, Corrientes Province.

During the first year (July 2002-July 2003) we have delivered more than 600 kg of rice, 250 kg of sugar, 200 kg of mate, 100 liters of oil, 100 peas and tomato sauce boxes, 100 kg of polenta, 130 kg of noodles, 50 kg of meat, and many other products, such as bread, flour, salt and spices.
During that same year, we supported a monthly total supply of powdered milk for 135 children at the Copeo Infantil Maná, and a partial supply for 56 children at the Madre Teresa de Calcuta and 170 children at the María Elena Walsh.

What are present donations used for?

As from March 2003, the Foundation has decided to concentrate and increase support to three places, which best comply with the conditions specified. These are:

1. COPEO INFANTIL MANÁ, from Villa Río Negro neighborhood
It is a very small place, located in a very humble and populated neighborhood buried deep in the flooding bed of the Río Negro, which runs across Resistencia city. This place is connected to the rest of the city by a single paved avenue, but to reach it, it is necessary to go along three dirt roads, which turn into mud under rainy conditions. 135 children attend daily to receive a glass of milk and bread with quince jelly. 20 of them have some degree of malnutrition and most of them are infected with parasites. Children walk to the dining hall, generally barefooted because they save the tennis shoes the Foundation has donated to them to attend school. They come in two shifts: one at 9:00 a.m. and the other at 5:30 p.m.. The food given is prepared by voluntary members of a neighborhood family, who offer two rooms in their house to carry out this activity. The Foundation provides all the powdered milk and the rest of the elements needed (tables, benches, gas for the kitchen, bread and jelly) are provided by a couple who owns a small shop which sells baby clothes in Resistencia.
As the photographs show, the space available is really small to house around 60 children per shift. Due to this, they are forced to line up and enter in groups, receive their portion of food and move on quickly to let the other children in. The surroundings are still dangerous. One of our next steps will be to cover the drains in front of the entrance door which, as can be seen in the photographs, are uncovered and pose a threat to the children.

2. COMEDOR SANTA CLARA DE ASÍS, from Santa Clara neighborhood
A total of 170 children who receive their daily lunch and a glass of milk at mid-afternoon in this dining hall wear a size smaller than that corresponding to their age group. However, no cases of malnutrition have been registered even though all these children’s social environment is under critical conditions.
The dining hall is located in a place lent by the Catholic Church, which is next to a chapel whose priest does not participate in the dining hall activities. The dining hall is humble and unfinished, and it is next to a defense system against flooding on the Río Negro shores. The area, in which there are many shacks with no floors, no electricity and no running water, floods easily when it rains. Actually, these are lands illegally occupied by unemployed families. It is here that the children who attend the dining hall live.
The searches conducted confirm that many of the adults —mothers and fathers of the beneficiaries— are drug and alcohol users and/or prostitute themselves. Due to that, most of the children do not attend school, in spite of the volunteers’ efforts to make the families aware of its importance. These families often prefer to use the children as labor force to pick up objects and food in the garbage dumps or to make them beg in the downtown streets.
As a basic sanitary measure, most of the children have been given a buzz to avoid recurrent lice and scabies.
Around 11:00 a.m. the children arrive with containers to receive their lunch portions. Each of them carries a pot or a plastic bowl. And even though the parents have been asked not to send metallic containers (to prevent the children from getting burnt because of the hot food) this keeps on happening. As a consequence, one of the most urgent needs is to provide them with plastic plates.
Around 4:30 p.m. they come again with their cups to have their milk. They take turns to wait at the small room which has been built by supportive neighbors of Villa Ávalos, who are also the ones who provide the lunch food and try to keep the children relatively clean.
The children sit to wait for their meal on seats made up of piled up bricks (see pictures) because we have not been able to get chairs or benches yet. A very clean kitchen has been installed in which meals can be cooked simply and safely (see pictures). The cooks are retired persons who volunteer to cook the meals in order to get a meal themselves. All the powdered milk for this daily portion is provided by the Foundation, as well as some of the supplementary ingredients to cook the meals.
The neighbors have already managed to get the materials to improve the dining hall floor, and soon they will start finishing it with ceramic tiles.

3. CASA “MARÍA ELENA WALSH”, from Juan Domingo Perón neighborhood.
It is a big hall for children aged 3 to 12, where 90 children from this neighborhood and from two illegal settlements (Villa Don Alberto and Villa Resistencia) are provided with food. The hall was built with UNICEF funds and at present the Provincial State provides some of the food, which is never enough to satisfy the monthly needs. That is the reason why they have to resort to organizations such as our Foundation, to satisfy the children’s nutritional needs. This hall provides breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack.
The children’s most serious problem in this neighborhood arises on weekends, because the house is closed due to lack of resources and volunteers to organize the meals. Many of these children arrive in a terrible state of weakness every Monday because they have had nothing to eat for 48 hours. It is because of this that apart from providing supplementary merchandise, the Foundation is trying to look for ways of obtaining resources to organize Milk Scooping on Saturdays and Sundays.

Apart from those three dining halls, are you considering the possibility of extending the Assistance Program to other centers?

Yes, the Foundation has agreed to supply, as from October 2003 and for a period of six months, all powdered milk necessary for 180 children from a new Scooping in Santa Clara neighborhood.
We are also considering assisting other scooping halls, one in Gran Resistencia (100 children) and another in Colonia Benítez, 30 kilometers north of the city (80 children). It is also urgent to find a solution for the milk supply on weekends in the Perón neighborhood.
In order to materialize this assistance we have contacted people from other NGOs in Europe (in Italy precisely) in order to have them “adopt” these scooping halls in collaboration with our Foundation.

Do we really know who we are assisting?

Yes, the people who work as volunteers in the halls not only provide the milk or prepare the daily meals, they also verify addresses, make sure they know the families, and call the roll daily in order to control every child’s history. Because of this, we have lists with the children’s names, addresses and I.D. numbers. We also know their grade levels, and, in many cases, unfortunately, their illiteracy level, real or functional.
On the other hand, in many cases and in coordination with the primary health assistance provided by the state or thanks to the help of doctors and nutritionists, we, the volunteers, know the children that need twice as much milk as the others due to some level on undernourishment.

Has the Foundation been helping in any other ways?

Yes. During these months, we have been able to supply:
Stoves to heat the small halls where the children gather in shifts to receive food.
Materials and work to make the roof of one of the milk scooping halls waterproof.
Tennis shoes. As winter started, we realized that most of the children were barefooted, which affected their health and their possibility of walking to the halls, located on dirt roads, which get really muddy as the first rains start falling. Because of that we found out the shoe sizes of the children attending from Villa Río Negro and provided them with one pair of canvas tennis shoes.
Toys. Those volunteering for the Foundation's Grandmothers Tell Stories Program had a collection which made it possible to deliver more than 500 toys and balls on Children’s Day in 2003.
Books. This is our next step: we are having a collection of new and used books within the Literature for Children in the Spring Program also organized by the Foundation. All the books that we collect will be given to the children who attend the three halls already described.

How are these social activities combined with the cultural objectives that the Foundation has?

As many other NGOs in Argentina, which have had to respond in non traditional ways to the crisis we are going through, our Foundation has had to diversify in order to deal with two urgent demands: feeding and providing reading material. And in the face of this apparent contradiction, we have responded: “we’ll do both”.
Some of the forty or more volunteers of the Grandmothers Tell Stories Program of the Foundation, who firmly believe that it is only when somebody reads to you (with love and affection) that you will be motivated to read, visit the children who go to the dining halls mentioned, taking to them what is perhaps their only opportunity to come across the best literature for children.
On the other hand, we always try to do all we can to include the children in the activities organized by the Literature for Children in the Spring Program. This program deeply moves the whole Resistencia City every year with literary presentations and free musicals presented in theaters and public parks, where the Grandmothers also tell stories.
Finally, all the new and used books that are collected in each campaign are given to the children, who also receive powdered milk and the Grandmothers’ visit.

see dining hall pictures****

Ways to help

Any individual or legal entity, public or private, as well as organizations, foundations, enterprises or businesses can contribute to the Assistance Program for Children’s Dining Halls by donating either money or goods.

IF YOU ARE WILLING TO HELP US, PLEASE follow any of the procedures described below:

a) Check written out in PESOS, in Argentina: Banco Credicoop, deposit in the Fundación Mempo Giardinelli Current Account Number 375-10869-1

b) Check written out in US DOLLARS in the United States: Payable to: "Fundación Mempo Giardinelli", and send it by mail to:
Dr. Fernando Operé c/o FMG
Univ.of Virginia. Dept. of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese
115 Wilson Hall
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4777

c) Check written out in EUROS in Europe:
Payable to Oscar A. Giardinelli, which must be sent to the Foundation: Mendoza 145 Piso 12 Dept. C // H3500BEC Resistencia, Chaco // Argentina
Deposit/transfer account from Banco BBVA from Barcelona, Branch 24:
IBAN (international banking code): ES68 0182 7229 4402 9150 0205.
BIC (also know as SWIFT code): BBVAESMM.


IMPORTANT: In every case, please let us know the exact amount deposited via email ( so that we can issue the corresponding Official Receipt. PLEASE DO NOT MAKE ANONYMOUS DONATIONS.

First and last name:
Telephone Number:
Email address:
Profession – Occupation:
CUIT (in Argentina):
Where and how much was contributed (Country, Bank and amount):

Please, specify whether the donation should be used for all our Foundation activities or for a particular program. If not specified, 50% of the donation will be used for the foundation’s general activities.


Translated by Marisa Estelrich