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Spaniards, Who Usually Aid Others, Being Asked To Help Their Own

In June, people in Madrid came to a distribution center where those in need could get food. (AFP/Getty Images)

(Journalist Lauren Frayer is a frequent contributor to NPR. She files this report from Madrid.)

For decades, the Red Cross has asked Spaniards to donate money to starving children in the Third World. But with Europe's debt crisis, the needy are now right here at home.

The Spanish Red Cross today launched its first-ever fundraising campaign for Spaniards to donate directly to other Spaniards. The aid organization estimates that some 300,000 additional people in Spain are vulnerable to hunger because of the economic crisis.

With one in four Spaniards out of work, the country has Europe's highest jobless rate. More than half of 20-somethings are unemployed. Spain has entered its second recession in three years.

New TV ads debut across Spain today, in a Red Cross campaign entitled "Now More than Ever." One spot shows a worried father rationing an omelette made from a single egg into three portions, to feed himself and his two children. His refrigerator is empty. Then two Red Cross volunteers arrive and the music swells. The smiling family unpacks milk, cooking oil and pasta from donation parcels emblazoned with the Red Cross logo.

"More and more people than you imagine need help in our country," say words scrolling across the screen. The Red Cross already helps about 2 million people in Spain, but another 300,000 are now needy because of the economic crisis, it said.

The Spanish Red Cross, or Cruz Roja, hopes to raise about $39 million over the next two years, to assist victims of hunger in Spain. More than 80 percent of those who receive Red Cross aid live below the poverty line, with family incomes of less than $800 a month, the group said. More than 60 percent of them are unemployed.

Today's new fundraising campaign coincides with the group's annual collection day. Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers have fanned out along sidewalks in the Spanish capital and other cities.

(Lauren is due to have more on this story later today on All Things Considered. We'll add the audio from her report to the top of this post later.)
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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today, Standard & Poor's downgraded Spain's credit rating. S&P now values the country at a BBB-, the agency's lowest investment grade level. For a different indicator of how bad the economy is now, in that country, you could look at the appeals there for charitable giving. Spaniards have long donated to the Red Cross, for instance, to help starving children in other countries. But with Europe's debt crisis, there are more needy people at home. Lauren Frayer reports on the first Red Cross fund drive to ask Spaniards to help fellow Spaniards.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Across Spain, there's a new TV ad showing a worried father with two young children. They're sharing an omelet made from a single egg. The fridge is empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED CROSS TV AD)

FRAYER: Two Red Cross volunteers arrive, and the music swells. They hand over donation parcels, and the now-smiling children unpack milk, cooking oil and pasta.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED CROSS TV AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: More and more people than you imagine, need help in our country, a voice says. That's the Red Cross' new message to Spain. The economic crisis has left hundreds of thousands of Spaniards hungry. One in four here is out of work - the highest rate in Europe. More than half of 20-somethings are jobless. Red Cross spokesman Fernando Cuevas says the crisis is finally catching up with Spain's middle-class.

FERNANDO CUEVAS: (Through translator) We faced a huge number of pleas for help from people who until now, never had to rely on charities like us.

FRAYER: Cuevas says the Red Cross is juggling 15 percent more aid requests from Spaniards this year, an estimated 300,000 new mouths to feed - people like Carlos Prat, in line with about 200 other people outside a food bank, in downtown Madrid. The 28-year-old lost his job waiting tables a year ago. He sleeps on a friend's couch, and lives on charity handouts.

CARLOS PRAT: Here, the economy - it's really, really hard. We don't have jobs, all right? I speak little bit of five languages - and nothing. Nothing.

FRAYER: Thousands of Red Cross volunteers fanned out across Spain today, asking Spaniards to donate to their countrymen - for the first time. In the past, fundraising here focused on sending money to Africa's needy, for example.

JUAN SEMPRUN: Now, our situation is bad. So the ones that need help are us.

FRAYER: Juan Semprun was one of those approached by a Red Cross representative today, in the street. I asked him if he donates.

SEMPRUN: I used to. I quit all my donations like, a month ago because I'm broke.

FRAYER: His business went bust, and he's thinking of moving abroad. He says he's lost hope that the crisis will pass quickly. And while the tapas bars stayed full for the first couple years of recession, that is no longer the case, says economist Gayle Allard.

GAYLE ALLARD: You know, the first year we'd comment on, oh, they're still in the streets; they're still going out. Spaniards managed to have a good time through all of this. But now, you're starting to see, I think, things are - are biding.

FRAYER: The Red Cross is nevertheless hoping that Spaniards can contribute nearly $40 million, over the next two years.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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