German grannies first: Backlash after food charity temporarily bans foreigners

German grannies first: Backlash after food charity temporarily bans foreigners
A major German food bank has faced a backlash after a local department temporarily halted free meal distributions to new customers including migrants and refugees, saying that the elderly feel deterred by the foreigners.

The management of the Tafel Deutschland food bank in Essen found themselves in hot water Friday after the head of the national chain, Jochen Bruhl, criticized their latest measure as “wrong” and “unfortunate.”

Charity branch managers in other cities also weighed in. “We are there for all those in need, no matter which skin color or nationality they have,” Thuringian state organization chairman Nico Schaefer said. “Of course we have similar problems,” Ansgar Wortmann, the manager of the Dortmund branch with 11,000 customers, noted, stressing that they would solve it differently. 

“That is out of the question for us. We want to bring people together, not block anyone,” Hartwig Szymiczek from the Gelsenkirchen food bank said.

However, the head of the Essener Tafel, Joerg Sartor, defended the decision. “We want the German grandmothers to continue coming to us,” Sartor told Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) newspaper.

Following the unprecedented influx of migrants three years ago, German recipients have been gradually replaced by the newcomers. Compared to 2015, when non-German food bank customers made up 35 percent, they now account for three-quarters of its 6,000 users, he noted.

Crowds of young men speaking in foreign languages deter the elderly and single mothers from coming to the charity, with “pushing and shoving” frequently taking place in the lines. Some men also showed “a lack of respect for women,” Sartor said.

Feeling obliged “to ensure a reasonable integration,” the Essen branch announced last December it would register new customers with a German ID card only. The new rule came into force in January, banning migrants and refugees “until further notice.”

Despite the criticism, Jochen Bruhl noted that behind the outcry at the Essen food bank there “hides a real scandal” of steadily growing poverty in Germany. “It is not the job of a volunteer organization to solve the poverty problem. That’s what the state has to do,” Bruhl charged, adding that “diesel engines are obviously more important in our society than fighting poverty.”

Some German politicians, however, preferred to distance themselves and criticize the Essener Tafel. The temporary ban “promotes prejudice and exclusion,” and it doesn’t fit with “the basic values of society, based on solidarity,” Federal Minister of Family Affairs Katarina Barley said. North Rhine-Westphalia Social Minister Karl-Josef Laumann also spoke out, saying “charity and mercy basically know no nationalities.”

Founded 25 years ago, Tafel Deutschland has more than 930 food banks across Germany, supplying those in need with food which is often surplus from supermarkets that would otherwise end up being thrown away.

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