Starting with a click on the Polish web, the intergenerational mutual aid initiative has become a phenomenon. It could even lead to a big bang of solidarity in the country, if its expansion continues to continue at the same speed.
In March 2020, Aleksandra Czarna-Elbaz, a resident of Warsaw, launched the idea, like this, on Facebook, while the first containment measures due to the Covid-19 crisis in Poland included the ban on going out, for over 70s: “What if we helped the elderly stay at home during the pandemic. “
Senior w koronie (“The crown to the seniors”) was born. The name plays on the double reference to the said virus “Of the crown” and the glorious attribute of kings, which should be honored. On the social network, the group now has 11,056 members, and the workforce continues to grow every day. The solidarity model born in Warsaw has been emulated throughout the country. Other Facebook networks are now mobilizing volunteers in Kielce, Lublin, Krakow, Lodz, Wroclaw …
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Marta Bialkowska is one of the first to respond to the call. “I manage the logistics of distribution”, she sums up. The ballet she orchestrates is now well oiled. As every Saturday noon for eight months, she made an appointment at noon sharp in a small industrial area in the south of the capital. The first volunteers arrive to prepare the parcels, roadmap in hand, so as not to forget any fruits, soups, meal trays, medicines, and even animal food if necessary. In a corner, a walker awaits its future owner. In another, a small flat screen TV.
Poor retirees explosion
We must act quickly, at 12:45 p.m., the neighborhood officials arrive to take their route. Marta takes the temperature of each of the 28 volunteers who are going on tour. “We want to ensure that no one will be contaminated. “ For the occasion, 14 personal vehicles were mobilized, one per route. Once the trunks and rear seats are loaded, the cars will be deployed to 81 addresses of elderly people in food, material and social distress.
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In Poland, the government offers confined seniors to do their shopping. But this is a paid service that few of them can afford, in a country where the minimum old age does not exceed € 270 and where the poverty rate of retirees has exploded from 9.6 % to 17.7% between 2008 and 2019.
This afternoon, Justyna and Przemek set off in pairs in their BMW. They start their tour in the “old town” of Warsaw, rebuilt after the war. This impoverished district is shunned by young people who prefer the area bristling with skyscrapers of the new city center.
At the top of a cobbled street, Andrzej, 72, watches their arrival through his window on the ground floor. This former managerial executive receives 1,400 gross zlotys per month (a little over € 300). When Senior w koronie first came, he lived in an empty room with no furniture or a bed. During an eight-month stay in hospital, squatters ransacked his old home, which the old man never had the means to re-equip. Today, the association comes to plug in the television which was waiting in the warehouse. “I could not buy a broom, and here I am fully equipped, I pinch myself to check if I am dreaming, I did not think I would live that anymore at my age”, he said, stifling a sob.
Each door that opens to receive a food package is an opportunity to discover new needs that are sometimes even more urgent. To answer them with precision, Senior w koronie gradually got organized. From now on, volunteers systematically send a questionnaire to the elderly, to find out everything about their situation: income, state of health, family circle, associations that already come to the aid … The organization, whose association status has been registered. last fall, also learned to say « non » to those who are already well supported elsewhere.
The medical issues quickly appeared. Since the beginning of March, up to a third of sick elderly people have stopped their treatment. The association notes an accumulation of delays in treatment. “We began to buy drugs, to advance the cost of consultations, to the ophthalmologist for example, to schedule operations not reimbursed, it cost a lot of money”, says Marta Bialkowska. Fortunately, the online fundraising campaign bore fruit, 380,000 zlotys (84,823 €). “That gives us plenty to see coming for a while. “
The charm of DIY solutions
Senior w koronie still retains all the charm of DIY solutions. For now, due to lack of space to store fresh produce, the volunteers have offered their fridges. As for Magdalena, 46, she even left an apartment to store the rest. “It was supposed to be used by my son, but eventually he studied physiotherapy in Kielce”, explains this volunteer who already works in the social, to help Ukrainian, Russian or Belarusian undocumented migrants to complete the administrative formalities to get in order.
Magdalena also does the tours. She has developed a loving relationship with Barbara, 78, whom she visits every day now. You enter this lady’s house through the kitchen, which opens onto a unique room. Barbara is sitting there, legs and arms crossed, head and eyes lowered, staring at the floor. A smell of tobacco permeates the premises. “Cigarettes are my last pleasure since I no longer see. ” Since spending time with Magdalena, she has also regained her sense of humor.
Never alone again
The old lady can no longer contemplate the eternal portrait of John Paul II hanging on the wall, nor the rustic canvas representing a horse’s head, a frame found in the street. But she jokes about it. “I called my daughter to let her know that I had got my hands on a work of art, and this time she came to see me very quickly”, quips the one who never receives a visit from her relatives. Before the confinement measures, someone from social assistance came, a gentleman two years older than she forced to supplement her monthly income. “He couldn’t really help me, but we were talking, he kinda became a friend. “
Magdalena is more vigorous. She completely reorganized her studio. Exit the glass furniture that she did not see, and in which she bumped into. They have been replaced by darker ones whose mass it detects. Magdalena also takes care of the laundry, shopping, sorting medicines … and especially life. “We have an almost family relationship”, Barbara smiles.
Magdalena has made a habit of hanging out with her 7-year-old daughter, who cuddles her. The little one left her one of her soft toys, so that she would never feel alone again.
Retired earlier, but in poverty
In 2017, the Polish government led by the Law and Justice party (PiS, conservative nationalists) lowered the retirement age to 65 for men and 60 for women (compared to 67 for all previously), despite the increase in life expectancy, from 70 to 78 years since the fall of communism.
The minimum monthly old-age pension was set at 1,200 zlotys (€ 268) at 1is March 2020. The average pension was € 500 in 2015.
According to Eurostat data, the share of Polish pensioners falling below the 60% mark of median income (the poverty line) rose sharply from 2008 (9.6%) to 2019 (17.7%).
Since 2002, the French association of the little brothers of the poor, created in 1946, is present in three Polish cities, Warsaw, Lublin and Poznan. To break the loneliness, she proposed a solidarity New Year’s Eve, as in seven other countries in Europe.