Always in the vanguard in helping the most disadvantaged people in Bulgaria, the Order of Malta is especially busy during the colder months.
Since November, we have started the “Hot Meals” project, which is run by the Order’s volunteers to numerous rough sleepers every Thursday in one of the largest markets in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Conceived and supported by the Order of Malta’s Embassy in Bulgaria, in collaboration with Caritas-Sofia, an organization that has been active for many years in helping the homeless in Sofia, while the meals are donated by an Italian restaurant, benefactor of the Order.
“Over the last two weeks the maximum temperatures have not reached even 0 degrees and and on Wednesday the thermometer showed 17 degrees below zero” explains volunteer Gergana Bogdanova, “and for the homeless this is a matter of survival. We give them pasta with sauce, a dish that both warms and nourishes.” “This winter is particularly difficult in Bulgaria,” says Ursula Hofter Zuccoli, the Order of Malta’s Ambassador to Bulgaria. “It is a critical situation; in Sofia, the Omicron variant has spread exponentially, with a high number of people infected, and the mortality rate is the second highest in the world. We also have rapidly rising inflation and heating prices are skyrocketing.”
The Ambassador reckons the repercussions on the population “will continue to worsen and the Order’s Embassy is trying to help as much as possible, albeit requests exceed our possibilities. We provide food to some 500 families in 10 locations in Bulgaria, especially in the northern regions where the mayors are appealing to us to help. Some families are without work and live on 60 euros a month in the poorest region of the European Union.”
But there is no lack of solidarity. Ambassador Hofter-Zuccoli is moved and surprised by the many offers from “several local entrepreneurs, each according to their own possibilities, who want to help the Order’s activities”. This makes it possible to continue the ‘Basic Goods-Winter Distribution’ food parcel donation project, also supported by the Order of Malta’s Global Fund for Forgotten People.
Ventsislav Yordanov, 60, receives a food parcel every two weeks from the Order of Malta’s volunteers. “My wife is totally disabled and since I have to assist her continuously, I cannot work. Our income consists of a social pension of 150 euros for both, but everything has increased by 20% in the past months. Without the help of the Order of Malta, I would be unable to pay our heating bills and buy the medicines my wife needs which are not covered by the national health system. You have given us back our lost dignity, because someone cares about us too.”
With its just 8 million inhabitants, Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with the lowest per capita GDP in the EU, average monthly salaries of under EUR 400 and pensions of around EUR 150.