Benevolent Essex People Send Aid to Starving Bulgaria
By Essex Chronicle
More than GBP 50,000 worth of food, donated by the charitable people of Essex, set off on a 1,600-mile journey last week, to feed starving people in Eastern Europe.
The annual Harvest for the Hungry mission to Bulgaria collects food donations from residents around the county to help feed some of the poorest people in Europe.
And as two lorry-loads of basic food essentials left a warehouse on the Widford Business Park, organizer the Rev Roger Stark, of Springfield Baptist Church, said this year's collection was even more important, as Europe's economic crisis has hit Bulgaria hard.
Mr Stark said: "Tourists to Bulgaria only see the region around the Black Sea. But in the mountains, the poverty is grinding. Things have been made worse because Bulgarians have, in the past, worked the summer in Greece and come home for the winter.
"That has stopped and now jobs have dried up in Spain too.
"We have been taking aid there for the last ten years at least and, while some of the roads and other infrastructure are better, the people are still hopelessly poor."
At Lom, in the north of Bulgaria, and Strumjani in the South, the 2,400 boxes of rice and lentils from the people of Essex is the biggest single aid effort in Bulgaria.
And this year, Essex Cares, the social care arm of Essex County Council, supplied a range of wheelchairs for children in homes and hospitals in the country.
The teams of volunteers from local churches will also visit Bulgarian jails, which Mr Stark describes as "more like concentration camps", to drop off a consignment of clothes that have been sent because no prison uniforms are supplied and some long-term inmates have clothes hanging off them through wear and tear.
Mr Stark, added: "The problem is there is no legal aid, so the rich and corrupt can buy themselves out of trouble, but the poor end up with harsher sentences because nobody speaks for them.
"And there is no care system in the prisons. They have to get everything, except very basic food, from their families.
"Exercise yards are like cages, there are machine gun towers and armed guards. They are basically concentration camps in an EU country."
To ensure the donations go to the needy, distribution is organized by local churches and Bulgarian municipalities, and the Harvest for the Hungry team also monitor handing out packages.
He said: "I want to thank all the 105 Essex schools, 25 churches and 1,000 individuals who, despite hardships at home, still contributed to our cause."
"Chelmsford Star Co-op gave us GBP 2,000-worth of flour alone and there are not many charities that could muster GBP 50,000-worth of help in just six weeks."
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