Food Deserts in the Slums of São Paulo

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought Brazil’s economy to a screeching halt, the already impoverished were the ones most affected by the sudden loss of income.

Unable to beg at stoplights, get government subsidized assistance or even sell wares at outdoor markets like they have been accustomed to, these individuals were left with no means of providing for their families.

One region, known for being a vast and crowded slum, with over 200,000 occupants, was particularly devastated by the financial crisis. In this area, coronavirus-related deaths were recorded at a minimum of seven deaths a day—nearly six times the rate of China’s fatalities during this same period.

Send Relief heard about this community living hand-to-mouth and sprung into action.

Equipped with hundreds of food baskets and Bibles, teams were mobilized to help these families experience healing physically and spiritually—but God multiplied these efforts. Initially, this slum was the only neighborhood our teams were deployed to, but because of an increase in volunteer participation and many requests from other communities, we were able to reach five different neighborhoods in the poorest region of Brazil.

One volunteer, Maya*, told Send Relief teams, “The work of distributing the food baskets has been the fundamental help in these communities. Through the distribution, I’ve always seen gratitude in these people. Many of them don’t know how to express gratitude, but just looking in their faces [as they] demonstrate a happiness and hope that there is going to be food in their house, [I know they are]. And through the distribution of Bibles, God has also supplied the most important thing [for] their spiritual needs, and we will continue praying for these people to see that God is the Bread of Life.”

Eventually, this project became so successful that it spawned the creation of four identical efforts throughout São Paulo’s shantytowns and expanded to include mental health counseling. Thousands of people in need were assisted because of your generosity!

Since the beginning of these efforts, a prominent national Christian motorcycle club, Ministério Motociclistico Abençoados, has been an integral part of delivering baskets to families unable to travel to distribution sites. The club president commented on his experience volunteering, saying, “People came up to us and asked for Bibles while we were making deliveries, so we gave them out and prayed with them. In another place, a young pregnant couple came up and asked for a Bible and prayer because they wanted their baby to serve God. In both cases, we made sure that they were introduced to a local pastor and church so they can grow in their knowledge of the gospel.”

Our teams requested the involvement of five local churches to begin building relationships with faith communities, and, through their participation, hundreds of gospel presentations were conducted during the food and Bible distributions.

One church leader, Santiago*, shared, “[At] the distribution of the food, it was very gratifying to see these people so satisfied to receive these baskets. For me, it was an honor to know that we are working for Jesus. I want to thank the people who were involved in [healing] our community—thank you very much!”

This project was made possible by the generosity of Southern Baptists through Global Hunger Relief. On October 11, Global Hunger Sunday, you and your church can help more communities like this experience the tangible love of God.

*Names have been changed for security.


Published July 15, 2021