German charity goes home-to-home in virus crisis

Sali, center, receives a birthday present from social worker Rebekka Rauchhaus of the Christian charity the Arche, or Ark, while his mother Janet, right, stands beside him at the doorsteps of their apartment in the Hellersdorf suburb of Berlin, Germany, Thursday, April 2, 2020. The group that provides help to about 1,300 poor families across Germany is now delivering food, hygiene products and children’s games to their doorstep during the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
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Poor families are particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, even in rich countries like Germany.

Lockdowns are forcing children to stay inside often-cramped homes, amplifying tensions that already exist. Food bank closures mean families have to spend of their limited money on basic supplies and without access to social workers, instances of violence and abuse are easier to miss.

A small Christian charity that provides help to about 1,300 poor families across Germany is now delivering food, diapers, soap and children’s games to their doorstep.

Normally, children would be visiting one of the 27 centers run by the Arche, or Ark, where staff offer free lunches, tutoring and a sympathetic ear.

With social distancing measures in force, those centers have been shut down. Now staff are experiencing heartbreaking moments when they drop off aid packs at families’ homes, says spokesman Wolfgang Buescher.

Younger children struggle to understand that they can’t run out and embrace the charity staff they used to play with every day.

Those previously living on the poverty line are now struggling even more, said Buescher. The group estimates that without food banks and school lunches, families are now having to spend on average 250 euros ($275) more a month on essentials.

Staff are trying to provide one-to-one tutoring to older children using video chatting apps, to ensure they don’t fall too far behind on their school work.

But there’s a limit to how much help they can provide from a distance, when some families of nine are living in a 75 square-meter (800 square-foot) apartment.

“You can imagine what’s happening there,” said Buescher.

He accused the German government of ignoring the plight of poor families.

According to official figures, about 2 million children in Germany live in poverty. The child protection organization DKSB estimates the real number is more than twice that.

“Politicians aren’t interested in them,” said Buescher.