August 19, 2019
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Canteen on Colombia-Venezuela border feeds more than 4,000 migrants daily

Villa de Rosaria (Colombia), Feb 8 (efe-epa).- A canteen less than a kilometer from Colombia's border with Venezuela has become a vital cornerstone in the daily sustenance of nearly 4,000 Venezuelans who cross the frontier on a daily basis just to grab lunch there and, with a little luck, find something to bring back to their families.

Crowds in search of a humble plate of food, often the only thing they will eat in the day, descend on the Casa de Paso de la Divina Providencia eatery, which is tucked away in Villa del Rosario, a residential suburb of Cucuta in northeast Colombia near the Simon Bolivar bridge that connects the nation with its crisis-struck neighbor.

Feeding the needy has become a mammoth task for the canteen's staff dishing out food from Monday to Saturday.

Lines of people stretch out from the establishment all the way to a park located two streets away.

Under a tropical sun that beats down on those waiting patiently, beads of sweat roll off the foreheads of the men, women and children waiting for their turn to have lunch.

Dishes of rice, lentils, shredded meat and yuca, a root vegetable also known as cassava, are served up to a grateful clientèle, said Carlos Rodriguez, a regular customer who has come to eat at the community canteen every day for the last four months.

"To get here, I had to walk eight blocks," Rodriguez said, describing his wait in line. He arrives at the eatery, an initiative supported by the local Catholic church, on foot from his home town of San Antonio del Tachira, which lies just over the border.

Nelly Amparo Garcia, who also crosses the Simon Bolivar bridge each day, walks an hour and a half to get to the canteen, where the menu changes daily.

"Today they gave us some delicious lentils. The canteen is really nice and they are very attentive, everything is sparkling clean," she told EFE.

The eatery's facade is decorated with images of the Virgin Mary, Pope Francis and Mother Theresa.

Garcia said she is thankful for the food she receives there, given the shortages in her home country, where food and medicine have become scarce amid an ongoing socio-political crisis.

The idea for the food center came in 2017 when, inspired by the Pope's message that people should support and help migrants around the world, Colombian priest Jose David Cañas Perez, who belongs to the Cacuta diocese, wanted to do his part.

The priest said members of the footwear and garment industry in Cacuta, which are an important part of the local economy, began to provide lunches for the Venezuelans crossing the bridge.

The community support center first opened on June 5, 2017, but it quickly became clear they could not cater to everyone who lined up for food, so decided to instead tend to the neediest.

That changed last year, when the United Nations World Food Programme stepped in to help prepare the lunches.

There are now three types of people working at the center: some are volunteers from the Catholic Church, some are Venezuelans, who receive an extra plate of food at the end of their shift for their service, and the others are from the WFP.

Once inside the center, the migrant Venezuelans can nourish themselves, but also take shelter from the harsh sun that scorches this region of South America.

Venezuela was currently gripped in a political crisis resulting from years of hyperinflation and declining living standards.

President Nicolas Maduro has become increasingly cornered as the international community ramped up calls for him to call early presidential elections as a way to solve the bitter crisis.

Juan Guaido, the current leader of the Venezuelan parliament, on Jan. 23 declared himself the legitimate caretaker president of the county in a direct challenge to Maduro. The United States and the European Union's most powerful nations have recognized his claim, although Maduro's main creditor Russia and historic backer China have vowed their support to the embattled leader.

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