Spain: Restaurant Letting People Work to Pay for a Meal

By: The Associated Press
By: The Associated Press

A Spanish restaurant has developed a new way of catering for the country's 'new poor' as the recession and the government's austerity measures continue to bite.

Those who can't afford to eat out in the city of Terrassa in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia can instead dedicate an hour of work either in the kitchen, serving, or cleaning - and in return get a free meal.

The restaurant opened its doors in March and operates from Monday to Friday during lunch hours in the first floor of a local social club.

Trobada restaurant offers a 6.50 euro (8.35 US dollars) set menu, consisting of a starter, a main course, dessert, bread, water and wine.

It serves an average of 70 meals a day, half of them paid for in the work exchange scheme.

The project is a joint venture between the Terrassa city council and 30 local charities.

The budget for 2013 is estimated at 176,700 euros (227,000 US dollars) - around a quarter of it comes from paying customers.

Approximately a quarter of it comes from paying customers.

After three months people can keep doing voluntary work in other activities set by the company.

Volunteers, or "time customers" as they are named, are people who have been out of work for two or three years and currently live below the poverty line.

Julia Gonzalez was born in Terrassa and lost her job as a cleaner two years ago.

"I think this is great. I love it," she said. "Since I am here I feel more optimistic. I've made lots of friends. We all stick together and encourage each other. It is a unique opportunity."

Pabe Lamine Ndye is an immigrant from Senegal who arrived in Spain six years ago and has been out of work for the last three years.

"This is very good. We've been here almost three months now. It's very good. We feel good helping each other and in return we can eat. It's very good," he said as he dried plates.

During the first year of the project restaurant manager Xavier Casas estimates that between 150 and 200 people will generate more than 15,000 hours of voluntary work.

Trobada was, he said, different from a soup kitchen, which had to play a social role.

"This is aimed at people wanting to regain and strengthen their self-esteem. People wanting to improve their day-to-day situation. This gives them hope for the future," he said.

According to Spain's National Statistics Institute, the national jobless rate shot up to a record 27.2 percent in the first quarter of 2013.

The number of people out of work stood at 6.2 (m) million, the first time the number has breached the six-million mark.

The number of people considered long-term unemployed - out of a job more than a year - increased to 3.5 (m) million while the unemployment rate for those under 25 years old was a staggering 57 percent.

The government also says its survey found the number of households without anyone working had risen by 72,400 to 1.91 (m) million.

Spain has been in recession much of the past four years as it struggles to deal with the collapse of its once-booming real estate sector.

In the previous decade, its economy was thriving, generating millions of jobs.

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