2020.04.06 11:00

Vulnerable families left exposed as quarantine strains Lithuanian NGOs

BNS2020.04.06 11:00

Children from vulnerable families and the elderly have become even more at risk during the nationwide quarantine in Lithuania. Now, NGOs providing help are also starting to lack funds and volunteers.

"We have even had such horrible calls when parents say, ‘take my kids, I cannot do that anymore’,” said Rasa Zaidovaitė from SOS Vaikų Kaimai Lietuvoje (SOS Children’s Villages in Lithuania).

The organisation provides social assistance to around 300 families in Lithuania. With the help from social workers, the parents are often undergoing treatment for psychiatric disorders and alcohol or drug addictions.

Read more: ‘Sew and forget your troubles’ – Lithuanian woman supplies town with free masks

“You realise that they really don’t want to give their children away, but have reached their limits,” said Zaidovaitė.

The NGO initially moved to remote communication with the vulnerable families, but once problems started arising, they had to go back to close contact.

‘We don’t have any reserve’

The NGO Save the Children has faced two key problems, including a lack of donations and a growing need to provide assistance to foster families.

"We estimate that we might lose around 40 percent of donations over this year because of the coronavirus,” Rasa Dičpetrienė, the head of the NGO in Lithuania, told BNS.

The organisation has around 50 day centres attended by around 1,000 people, according to her.

“We are committed to helping those centres financially, [but] If we don’t survive, then we will not be able to help those kids, and every kid has a family where there might be elderly people and sick kids,” she said.

A tenth fundraising concert had been planned in March but had to be postponed, which means the organisation will lose out on around 200,000 euros collected in donations during the concert each year.

And since the majority of shops have been closed, out of almost 2,000 existing donation boxes only several hundred located in supermarkets are still able to collect funds.

As educational establishments and day centres were closed, Save the Children started consulting the families of their children remotely and also providing essential food products, Dičpetrienė said.

If the quarantine is extended until the summer, Save the Children might have to close. "We don’t have any financial reserve," Dičpetrienė said.

Less frequent visits to help the elderly

The Order of Malta's assistance service in Lithuania provides regular assistance to around 2,600 seniors and delivers food to their homes.

"After the quarantine was introduced, we had to review our services and the key challenge was how to deliver food safely,” Dalia Kedavičienė, the head of the service, told BNS.

"We have now split those people into two groups – those who have essential and non-essential needs. If we have elderly people who only receive hot food from us, we will continue bringing it to them," she said.

"And we also deliver hot food and packages, including dry long-life products, once a week. We used to do that several times a week before, but we are now restricting that number of visits, and volunteers wear facemasks, gloves," she said.

Private businesses are also contributing to the delivery of food to elderly people, Kedavičienė said.

Additional activity

Gintarė Guzevičiūtė, secretary general at the Lithuanian Red Cross, said their volunteers provided emotional assistance to elderly people by maintaining the "human connection", but they also had to start providing food during the quarantine.

"We call elderly people every other day and inquire how they are doing. But we have noticed that we can protect them from contracting the virus by only ensuring that they get goods and products delivered to their homes so that they don’t need to go to the store or pharmacy," Guzevičiūtė told BNS.

"We set a certain budget for every elderly person a week. A volunteer is told by an elderly person what they need the most," she added.

Volunteers delivered over one hundred packages last week, the head of the Lithuanian Red Cross said.

Guzevičiūtė said the organisation provided assistance to around 400 elderly people, and people already donated almost 30,000 euros for the purchase of essentiel supplies.

The Lithuanian Red Cross is now looking for around 150 volunteers who could help around 800 elderly people in Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda with grocery shopping.

More volunteers needed

Maisto Bankas (Food Bank) also had to adapt its operations after Lithuania was placed under quarantine.

Just as before, part of food products nearing their expiry date are being collected from retail chains and distributed to around 600 nongovernmental organisations.

Before the quarantine, people would come to collect the food themselves. Now, however, the food needs to be delivered by volunteers.

"In Vilnius alone, we have delivered packages to almost 1,000 people. In most cases, they are elderly people, sick people, poor people," Miglė Petronytė, a representative of Maisto Bankas, told BNS.

April will bring even more work, she added.

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