In His compassion, God invites, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1) Those words would bless the ears of many struggling to survive in Venezuela.
For Yeri Guerra, getting by means sometimes skipping meals so her boys, ages four and 11, can eat before school. Other days, when things are even more desperate, none of them eats.
“Sometimes, I don’t send them to school because I don’t have anything to give them for breakfast,” the 39-year-old mother laments.
Guerra isn’t alone. According to a survey by the U.N. World Food Program, one of every three Venezuelans faces food insecurity. That is the inability to get enough food to meet basic dietary needs.
The South American nation was once wealthy due to its vast oil reserves. But decades of socialist rule and corruption set Venezuela on a downward spiral into social and economic crisis.
Basic needs such as medicine and food go unmet for average citizens in Caracas, the capital. People surveyed said food is now available, but it’s still unattainable. Many Venezuelans have lost their jobs in the crisis. The little money a laborer can scrape together is almost worthless due to hyperinflation.
Caracas has the nation’s highest concentration of wealth, but it’s still common to see children, the elderly, and others looking for food scraps in garbage piles outside homes and behind restaurants. They throw rocks and sticks into trees hoping to knock loose fresh fruit for a meal.
Wilfredo Corniel is a priest. “One day we saw a dog fighting with a man over a bone,” Corniel says. “A bone that had nothing on it.” Compassion moved him to act.
In a slum dismally called The Cemetery, Corniel organizes free meals. Guerra’s family depends on that sort of generosity to save her boys from malnourishment. A soup kitchen in her neighborhood provides free lunches most days—and the widow and her children take part. Occasionally, she can afford a chicken drumstick, which they share, bought from her earnings selling cookies or candy on the street. In a good week, she earns about $5. Remarkably, that’s a higher-than-average income.
Since September, Guerra has been the sole provider for her family. Her husband went to work one day selling snacks. He was later found beaten to death and robbed. Most of her family has fled Venezuela for better conditions in neighboring Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
Despite the devastating decline, Socialist President Nicolás Maduro has managed to stay in power. His government hasn’t commented on the hunger study.